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The artist John Bauer

In 1882, Jönköping's most famous artist was born - John Bauer. His most popular paintings contain mostly trolls, fairies, elves and other fairy tale creatures. John Bauer's magic motives shows nature with deep, dense forests where thin rays of light enters the branch. Johns magical beings are not visible to the human eye but have been hidden by nature. He took his inspiration from the landscape of Småland.

John grows up at Östra torget in Jönköping in a building where the family runs a slaughterhouse on the ground floor and lives upstairs. John is one of four siblings, big sister Anna, big brother Hjalmar and little brother Ernst. The big sister dies tragically at the age of 13. In 1881, the family built a summer home by Lake Rocksjön - Villa Sjövik. John enjoyed beeing here and from this place we can today see several sketches that John drew of the house and the surroundings around Lake Rocksjön.

John & Esther

At the age of 16 he leaves Jönköping to study in Stockholm, but it takes a full two years before he is admitted to the Academy of Fine Arts. The news that he has been accepted fills him with happiness. During his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts, he meets the light-hearted and bubbly Esther Ellqvist, who becomes his great love. She becomes the role model for the princesses he regularly draws. Many of the letters that John and Esther wrote when they were apart are the reason we know so much today about their history. John and Esther falla in love, but their love has to go through many trials over time. Esther grew up in Stockholm and thrives best among life and movement, while John prefers to spend his time in the forests of Småland.

Nature as inspiration

John was drawn to nature from an early age. After his studies in Stockholm, he returned to his home town and began looking for a home for himself and Esther. Finally, they find Villa Björkudden, a sweet cottage in beautiful nature along the water of Lake Bunn. Here they have nature just around the corner and John often spends all day in the woods. Among pines and moss-covered stones, John sees figures that he transforms into trolls, elves, fairies and other fairy-tale creatures in his drawings. In addition to inhaling the feeling of the dark forest, John often went out on the water in his canoe. In Bunn's canals, the branches stretch across the water and form lush tunnels and where the landscape amazes with its variety.

When John is out on long walks in the woods, the days become long and lonely for Esther. In time, she longs to return to her family and friends in Stockholm. Their different needs lead them to spend the summers in Bunn and the winters in Stockholm.

In the late summer of 1915, their son Bengt was born. Esther and her son Putte still live in villa Björkudden in Bunn, while John travels a lot. They decide to start again in Stockholm and with John's father's help they buy a plot of land and build a house.

Bauer's tragic fate

In November 1918, they packed their things and takes the boat from Gränna over Lake Vättern via the Göta Canal into Stockholm. They choose to take a boat because they think trains are too dangerous. The weather promises weak winds on the trip to Stockholm. The evening before the trip, they spend with theri friends Bengt and Elna Hedberg in Gränna. Later, Elna writes in a letter to John's parents about a nice evening where the four of them all played with Putte and that John and Esther both were looking forward moving to Stockholm. But she also describes their concerns when they see that the winds are increasing over Lake Vättern.

When the boat leaves Gränna harbor just before eleven in the evening, the weak southerly wind has increased in strength and switched to westerly. It has started to snow and the dark waves hit the sides of the boat hard.

Shortly after one o'clock when the steamer is on its way into the harbor at Hästholmen, a large wave hits the deck and pulls with it the large barrels that are unsurried on the foredeck. When the boat tilts, the heavy load shifts and the steamer sinks quickly. Those who have been awakened by the boat's abrupt movement try to get out but are hampered by luggage and cargo blocking the doors. All 24 people on board the boat die.

The tragic accident is noticed throughout the country and when the boat is salvaged four years later, the event is followed by the whole country. John's body is found in a staircase outside the cabin, while Esther's body is found in the living room with her son Putte in her lap.

John Bauer and his family are buried at Östra Kyrkogården in Jönköping.

Discover more

If you want to experience the magical forests where John Bauer gathered inspiration for his paintings, you can book a stay at the beautiful BauerGården in Bunn. During the summer, you can also join a boat trip with Trolska båtturer in Bunn och Ören where you can see more of the landscape that inspired the fairy tale artist.

At Jönköping County Museum you will always find at least one exhibition about the famous artist.

If you want to hike on your own along the nature where John lived, we can recommend you hike all or part of the John Bauer Trail. Read more about the trail here.