Culture & History

John Bauer

“He painted mystical and magical places. They’re immediately recognisable for many who have spent time in Sweden’s forests.” – Jönköping County Museum

© Grenna Museum, Sundbeck, Calla Helena

John Bauer 1882-1918

John Bauer became hugely popular as a result of his spectacular paintings of fairy tale creatures. He quickly found fame following the publication of his stories entitled “Amongst Gnomes and Trolls” in 1907, and then annually thereafter around Christmas time. Bauer’s works are still appreciated and admired today.

John Bauer's paintings often portray lush, dense forests with thin rays of light filtering through the trees to the ground. The natural landscapes he painted seem to hide the beings, not perceptible to the human eye, that are so prevalent in Swedish folklore. The fact that Bauer found inspiration in Småland’s forests made him even more popular with his countrymen.

Son of a Bavarian Immigrant

John Bauer was born in 1882 in Jönköping. He was the second son of Joseph Bauer and Emma Wadell. His father migrated from Ebenhausen, a town south of Munich, to Sweden when he was 13 years old. John’s mother was a farmer’s daughter who grew up just outside Jönköping. Joseph and Emma ran a slaughterhouse in Jönköping’s Eastern Square, which gave them modest wealth.

Beloved Home by Lake Vättern

John Bauer grew up on the southern point of Vättern. He returned to Småland and his home city of Jönköping after spending years travelling abroad and studying art in Stockholm.

John Bauer by Lake Bunn

From 1906 to 1918, John Bauer lived with his family on the northern point of Lake Bunn, just outside Gränna. First, they lived in a small house in Torstorp before moving to a villa on the Björkudden peninsula.

Tragic Death

John Bauer’s life ended tragically. He was in the process of moving to Stockholm with his wife and young son. His plan was to travel from Gränna by boat over Vättern before taking the Göta canal to the capital. They didn’t make it far. A storm wrecked the boat on the evening of 20 November 1918. The boat was loaded with ovens and sewing machines from the Husqvarna factory when it sank near Hästholmen, about 30km north of Gränna. All souls on board were lost.

A special exhibition

To celebrate and honour Jönköping’s favourite son on the 100th anniversary of his death, a special exhibition was created at Jönköping’s County Museum. There’s plenty from John Bauer’s world you can do, see and experience at the museum.

Hiking Trail: The John Bauer Trail

It’s said that John Bauer himself walked the trail between Huskvarna and Gränna. The 46-km-long John Bauer hiking trail winds through varied terrain, from the beaches of Lake Vättern to steep cliffs with sweeping views of the lake. Old farmhouses and the ruins of an old monastery can be found between the streams bubbling along the path. The varied terrain itself is unforgettable, but the scenic lookouts add another element of wonder.

boat tour in magical forest
Trolska båtturer. © Day fotografi

A Boat Tour in The Land of Trolls

Two lakes near Gränna, Lake Bunn and Lake Ören, have been connected by a canal since 1845. The idea was to direct water from these lakes, both of which are 100 meters higher than Vättern, through the canal to create new fertile land for growing crops. The ambitious project never came to fruition and, today, the canal is overgrown – almost impenetrable. However, the beautiful mahogany boats used by Trolska Båtturer can still take you there. Under the roof provided by green trees, you’ll find a troll’s paradise where the water lilies bloom and the dragonflies soar…

John Bauer Exhibition

The Jönköping County museum has had an array of John Bauer paintings on display for the past few years. Following the 100th anniversary of John Bauer’s death, a new painting was purchased and placed on display amongst the letters, sketches, drawings and paintings by Jönköping’s most famous artist.

The Bauergården Hotel dock by Lake Bunn
The Bauergården Hotel dock by Lake Bunn. ©

The Hotel by Lake Bunn

On the pristine southwest beach of Lake Bunn, you’ll find the Bauergården Hotel dock. Guests of the hotel can enjoy the enchanting views of the lake and its surrounds. The boats coming and going allow you to experience the same views that inspired John Bauer.