The image of Princess Tuvstarr sitting naked in the depths of the forest by a lake as smooth as a mirror has become much more prominent than the story it illustrates.
Her long hair extends all the way down to the water. And there probably were more people who saw the image when it was used on shampoo bottles in the 1970s and ‘80s than those who actually read Helge Hjellin’s “Story of Skutt the Moose and Little Princess Tuvstarr”, as the tale was called. In the story Tuvstarr ventures out to experience the world, and she is helped by Skutt the Moose. He tries to warn her about the many dangers of the forest, such as the siren of the woods and the rivers. And by the dark lake in the depths of the forest, Tuvstarr loses her gold heart and remains there perpetually. The moose begs and pleads for her to follow him away from there, but she remains sitting by the water transfixed, looking for her heart.
The story is part of the fairy tale collection Among Elves and Trolls that John Bauer began illustrating in 1907. John Bauer obviously derived inspiration from his surroundings. It’s said that the person who served as the model for the lithe Tuvstarr was his wife, Esther. Incidentally, she can be seen as a motif in a number of her mate’s works.
Esther, whose maiden name was Ellqvist, also was an artist, and the couple met when they were both students at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm. Together they went on trips for inspiration to Italy and Germany. When their son was born, Esther’s own artistry had to take a back seat. There are many indications that one of the ideas behind the couple’s plans to take up residence in Stockholm was to allow her the opportunity to resume creative work.
John Bauer died at age 36 along with his wife, Esther, and their three-year-old son. They were aboard the Pehr Brahe steamboat when it foundered during a stormy November evening outside Hästholmen in Lake Vättern. The family was then in the process of moving from Bunn by Lake Vättern to Stockholm, where John was having a house built on Djursholm. It’s said that ironically enough they originally had thought of making the trip by train but chose to travel by boat instead to avoid the risk of accidents on the railway.
John Bauer grew up as the son of a merchant in central Jönköping and spent his summers by Rocksjön lake on the outskirts of the city. Jungle-like forests and wetlands were there. The family’s summer house, Villa Sjövik, which was build by John’s father, Josef Bauer, was razed in the 1960s, and it is now the location of John Bauer Park.
The surroundings John populated with his elves and trolls clearly were inspired by the dense forests in the Södra Vätterbygden district. He was always coming back there.
At Jönköping County Museum you can become acquainted with John Bauer, the artist, aided by his paintings, letters, sketches and photographs. In the Fairy Tale Wardrobe there is Bauer-inspired clothing for trolls, princesses, princes and other fairy tale characters.