Einar Bager: the story of a Swedish artist behind a viral photograph

black and white photograph of naked man at easel painting another naked man

Recently this cheeky image of a naked artist painting a nude model was shared by the Instagram account museumbums.

This isn’t the first time this image has been shared online – it could be called a viral sensation, as it has been shared thousands of times on Tumblr and gained hundreds of likes on Instagram.

These accounts often focus on the homosocial aspect of the photograph showing two men naked together, and the unique situation of seeing an artist naked while painting a nude model.

But what’s the real story behind the photograph?

In all the thousands of shares, the photograph is captioned as being Einer Bagner, but in fact the pert painter is Swedish artist and historian, Einar Bager.

Einar was a prolific artist, illustrator and historian. There are more than 1,000 images (sketches, drawings, paintings) attributed to him in the collections of the Malmö Museums. He was born in Malmö in 1887, the son of a prominent businessman.

The photograph shows the date 1910. Born in 1887, Einar was then 23 years old. By this time, Einar had studied art in Copenhagen, finishing his studies in 1909.

The photographer was Harald Bager. Sometimes this is credited as having been photographed by his brother, but actually Harald Bagar was Einar’s father.

lower half of a young man wearing stockings on a rocky beach
Einar on a rocky beach, 1904, Harald Bager, Malmö Museums, CC BY

EXPLORE MORE: 1000s of digitised photographs by Harald Bager

In 1918, he married Clara Persson who was 25 at the time.

Later in life, Einar focused on history, publishing many volumes relating to Malmö’s history including many illustrations, sketches and drawings.

Einar’s artworks include many paintings of people, including nude sketches, landscape scenes from the Skåne region of Sweden, as well as capturing the historic architecture of Malmö and its city life.

The photograph’s caption says that Einar is painting on rocks near Mölle.

During the 19th century, Mölle, a small Swedish village to the north of Helsingborg, had become known as a resort town.

Nowadays, we think very little of everyone going to a beach. But in some societies in the 19th century, the notion of men and women, boys and girls bathing together was somewhat shocking.

By the end of the 1800s, Mölle was one of the first seaside resorts in Sweden – and was known as a place where mixed sex bathing could happen. Visitors came from across Sweden and other parts of Europe – there was even a weekly train service from Berlin to Mölle.

For the most part, men and women bathed together wearing swimsuits.

In the early 20th century, there was a belief that sunbathing and swimming in the sea was healthy, and restorative. Some paintings of the time capture this – Norwegian artist Edvard Munch’s 1907 painting Bathing Men being one example.

This gives some context to Einar and his model. Sadly, there does not seem to be a digitised version of the painting that Einar is working on. The closest we have found is this coastal scene – very beautiful and serene, but without the male model that made the original photograph unique.

EXPLORE MORE: Browse sketches, drawings and paintings by Einar Bager

By Adrian Murphy, Europeana Foundation

Feature image: Einar Bager paints a naked man at Mölles rocks, Harald Bager, Malmö Museums, CC BY

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