Probably Lill Arthur or Half Man Half Legend
On one of the walls at Bildhuggarverkstad there is an old charcoal drawing depicting a landscape with a river. Looking at the drawing one is reminded of typical Swedish countryside, a cluster of houses, a river, some trees and unending greenery. When one examines the back of the drawing there is the inscription: “Probably lill Arthur.” Journalist Margareta Holgersson mentions that “There are so many stories about Lill Arthur, but one should always be aware most of them are probably not true.”
Arthur Petersson died in 1956. Before he died he was living in a pensioner’s home where he had apparently fallen in love with a woman. He wanted “Amor Omnia” to be written on his gravestone, “Love Conquers All”. After spending almost an hour the artist Seher Uysal found his gravestone at the Tranås city cemetery. On the gravestone there was a relief of palette with brushes and Arthur’s name carved into the marble. Not the inscription he wanted. His friends who apparently did not want his gravestone to appear too mundane had arranged the pallette and brushes.
Born in 1885 Arthur was not wanted by his parents, he was bullied because of his very short stature hence the name lill-Arthur. He was known to be very witty, nimble minded and at Bildhuggarverkstad he was known as a very good painter. He was schooled at the Valand Art Academy in Gothenburg where he later also recieved a scholarship to go to Paris. Apparently he used the money from the scholarship on drinks instead. He came back with a thick book of decorations which they used as samples at the workshop.
Catherine Bolehed remembers him really well: “We used to paint together when I was a young child he used to look after me”. After years she found his walking stick with a wild dog’s head as a handle, in a second hand store and bought it. She remembers a story about him he visited an exhibition in Tranås, the artist known for being pompous. Lill-Arthur went to the opening, and the artist asked: ‘So what do you think?” Lill-Arthur said: ‘Well…’ The artist demanded: ‘What do you mean well?’ Arthur answered: “Exactly!’”
Many of the older generation in Tranås have a lill-Arthur story and a lot of people own a painting or drawing of his. He often used to exchange his paintings with people in order to buy food and drinks. There are a lot of stories circulating about these exchanges as well. One can easily get lost in the legend of Arthur.
Tranås Kommun has a few paintings by him, mostly landscapes around town. Rivers, a few houses, factories and the town square. The collection has two portrait paintings, one is a self portrait of him handsomely dressed with a knowing smile. The other is a portrait of someone in a fit of hysterical laughter. In the inventory there is a question mark next to the title. They are not sure about a title or who the laughing person is.
Chapter Five brings together a few Arthur Petersson paintings and drawings including one landscape drawing and five portraits. One is his self portrait, the other is the laughing man, the third is by his friend Tor Carlsson showing him in his famous fur coat. One is given the impression this is a man one should not mess with. Another is a quick sketch of Bernard Fälth’s, hung on wall with some other drawings around him, showing his characteristic face, almost triangular. The last portrait is in the form of a text published in Tranas Posten in 1961, “Lill Arthur- A Portrait” by Dag Stille. Stille is another artist and in that newspaper clipping he describes his beloved friend who is an important figure in town and talks about his wishes and memories.
There is only one landscape drawing in the modest collection of found and borrowed archival material and it is the one with a local Swedish countryside landscape which he drew himself. On a bright morning in June, Sven Karlsson revisited to the workshop together with Seher Uysal. He looked at the drawing suspiciously, turned to look at the back and read “probably lill Arthur”, he said: “It’s probably Ȧke’s handwriting!”
Arthur Petersson’s life stories often concern probabilities and possibilities. He left hundreds of stories behind him, some of which are witty and humorous but we cannot be entirely sure if they were actually true. Arthur Petersson’s life, work, aphorisms are so intertwined they have created the legend, Lill-Arthur. Therefore Chapter Five: Probably Lill Arthur or Half Man Half Legend aims to bring together a small collection of archival material some doubtfully belonging to him. The installation does not attempt to comment on their originality or to fact check the material, but rather it shows the collection openly in order to shed some understanding the life of a prominent town figure, a character, and artist and a man.