3 Author Portraits Donated to Seattle’s Hugo House

by Katie Sharrow-Reabe

You probably have never heard of artist Carl Köhler, but his son, Henry, is looking to change that. Earlier this month, Henry donated three of his father’s author portraits to the Hugo House, a literary center in Seattle: James Joyce, Henry Miller, and poet Anna Akhmatova.

Franz Kafka by Carl Köhler

Franz Kafka by Carl Köhler

Köhler studied at the Swedish Royal Academy of Fine Art and gained some fame in his native country for his author portraits as well as his modernist drawings of dancers and the theater before his death in 2006. He took particular interest in writers and other intellectuals, and though he never met his subjects, he was able to extract certain qualities from their writing and applied these to create powerful portraits. He captured the personages of celebrated authors from the 20th century, such as Franz Kafka, Virginia Woolf, Charles Bukowski, and Joyce Carol Oates, employing multiple media and varying technique for each portrait. Emily Colette Wilkinson, who wrote a piece on Köhler for The Millions, noted how a woodblock print of Kafka lends its sharp edges to an “atmosphere of impending danger and death, its sense of menacing, disorienting complexity, of something becoming something else.”

Henry Köhler speaks warmly of his father, who would watch Ingmar Bergman movies and “after too many glasses of wine, wanted to play the piano and [wouldn’t move] away from there once he started to play.” They grew close in his father’s later years.

Since his father’s death, Henry has devoted much of his time to curating shows of Köhler’s work in effort to extend his legacy. Selections from his oeuvre reside in the National Museum of Fine Arts and the Modern Museum in Stockholm, and have been shown in prominent libraries and universities worldwide. Starting in 2009, he arranged a tour around the US and Canada that had a write-up in The New York Times that started at the Central Brooklyn Library. Henry is currently in talks with representatives from the International House of Literature in Stockholm and the Swedish PEN Centre in hopes of establishing a permanent exhibition of author portraits.

More of Carl Köhler’s artwork can be found on his website: www.carlkohler.se.

Oscar Wilde by Carl Köhler

Oscar Wilde by Carl Köhler


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