JOSEPHSON, Swedish family which had emigrated from Prussia in the late 18th century.
JACOB AXEL JOSEPHSON (1818–1880), conductor, composer, and writer, was born in Stockholm, the son of Salomon Josephson, a merchant. He studied at Uppsala University and, from 1841 (the year in which he converted to Christianity) to 1844, held various conducting and teaching posts. A grant by the famous singer Jenny Lind enabled him to tour and study on the Continent from 1844 to 1847. After directing the Stockholm Harmonic Society for two years, he was appointed Director musices of Uppsala University in 1849. In the same year he founded the Uppsala Philharmonic Society, which he headed for 30 years, and in 1867, the choir of Uppsala Cathedral. From 1864 onward he lectured at the university on music history. Under his direction, the Philharmonic Society Orchestra and the cathedral choir became the foremost performing bodies in Sweden and the first to achieve there, in the 19th century,
His brother, LUDVIG OSCAR JOSEPHSON (1832–1899), was a stage director noted for his productions of Ibsen and Strindberg. Born in Stockholm, he began his career as an actor. His talent, however, lay in directing, and from 1865 to 1868 he was administrator of the national theaters. During this time he directed Shakespeare's Coriolanus, Byron's Sardanapalus, and Meyerbeer's opera, L'Africaine, as well as historical plays of his own. From 1873 to 1877 he worked in Christiania (now Oslo), where he became known for his brilliant presentations of Ibsen's Peer Gynt and Pretenders. Returning to the Swedish Theater in Stockholm (1879–87), he directed plays by the world's great dramatists and staged Strindberg's first important theatrical success, Master Olof.
His nephew, ERNST ABRAHAM JOSEPHSON (1851–1906), was a well-known painter. He was born in Stockholm. A series of tragic events contributed to his eventual mental breakdown. As long as he adhered to traditional painting and acceptable subject matter, his talent was appreciated by both the Stockholm Academy and the Paris Salon. Difficulties arose after he became a follower of Courbet and then of Manet. Josephson's robust Spanish Blacksmiths was roundly rejected by all conservatives when displayed at the Paris Salon, as were his vital, non-posed portraits.
In Paris, Josephson became the leader of The Opponents, a group of Swedish artists who were dissatisfied with the aesthetic backwardness of Sweden. They sought far-reaching reforms and addressed a "Letter of Opposition" to the Swedish king. Josephson soon found out that he had become too radical to please his patron, the Swedish banker Pontus Fuerstenberg, who withdrew his support, and even too uncompromising for The Opponents, who selected a more conciliatory and prudent man as their new leader.
With his patronage lost and his inheritance exhausted, Josephson had recourse only to a friend, the Swedish painter Österlind, with whom he retreated to an island off the coast of Brittany. There the two experimented with spiritualism. Josephson began to have hallucinations: he believed himself to be in communication with Holbein, Velasquez, and Rembrandt, and signed his drawings with the name of the great one under whose "dictation" he had produced it. Realizing that his colleague had become seriously ill, Österlind took him to Sweden (1888), where Josephson was confined to a mental hospital. After he had regained some of his strength and balance he returned to live in Stockholm. In a novel, August Strindberg described the invalid as sitting in a cafe and gazing "far off into space as if he were alone with dreams and visions he could not communicate."
Yet the "sick" man did communicate – through art works, including over a thousand pen-and-ink drawings and about a hundred watercolors and oils. While his "healthy" work, though excellent, was largely eclectic, the work Josephson created after his breakdown was highly original. He became a full-fledged Expressionist more than 20 years before the term was coined, and he is treated with respect and even admiration in works of general art history as one of the precursors of Expressionism. His paintings are to be found in all major museums in the Scandinavian countries. In 1964 and 1965, a Josephson exhibition toured the United States.
GUNNAR JOSEPHSON (1889–1972) was also born in Stockholm and was a bookseller, community director, and magistrate. From 1936 to 1962, he was chairman of the governing board of the Stockholm Jewish community and was a member of the Swedish State Committee for Refugees during the Nazi period. Josephson was involved specifically in aiding the Jewish refugees who reached Sweden. He represented Jewish interests before the Swedish authorities.
RAGNAR JOSEPHSON (1891–1966), Gunnar's brother, was also born in Stockholm. An author and historian of the fine arts, he served as professor of the history of art at the University of Lund from 1929 to 1957. In a series of monographs he wrote about both North European and other works of art, especially those from the period of the Baroque. In Lund he founded a museum for the study of the North European monumental art and its development. In 1940 he published Konstverkets födelse ("Birth of the Work of Art"), the subject of his main interest. He was director of the Dramatic Theater in Stockholm from 1948 to 1951 and wrote dramatic works. He also published some anthologies, including Judiska dikter ("Jewish Poems," 1916; new edition 1943 as Valda judiska dikter) and in 1961 was elected to the Swedish Academy.
ERLAND JOSEPHSON (1923– ), another member of the Josephson family, was an actor and author. He was a member of the City Theater Companies of Helsingborg (1945–49) and Göteborg (1949–56) before joining the national Dramatiska Teatern, Stockholm, of which he became administrator in 1966. Although he came from an assimilated family and knew little about Jewish tradition, Josephson often dealt with the theme of antisemitism in his writings. These include the novel En Berättelse om herr Silberstein ("A Tale About Mr. Silberstein," 1957) and the plays Benjamin (1963) and Doktor Meyers sista dagar… ("Doctor Meyer's Last Days," 1964). He acted in some of Peter Weiss's plays, playing the Marquis de Sade in Marat-Sade (1964) and Mulka in The Investigation (1965).
[Hugo Mauritz Valentin]
MGG, incl. bibl.; Riemann-Einstein; Riemann-Gurlitt, incl. bibl.; Grove, Dict, incl. bibl.; Baker, Biog Dict (on Jacob Axel); S.L. Millner, Ernst Josephson (Eng., 1948); I. Mesterton,
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.