The Ice

  • Artist: Lena Cronqvist
  • Creation date: 1975–1976
  • Object type: Painting


The painting has the feel of a blurry amateur photograph of a nuclear family. The mother, father and younger girl are warmly dressed. The older girl stands by herself in a jacket she has outgrown and without a hat in the cold winter weather. Her parted hair is held firmly in place by a blood-red bow.

The artist depicts the psychological drama that unfolds between the family members. The mother, father and younger child are rendered dark and sketchy. The girl, who stands by herself in the centre of the painting, is the only one who has a natural complexion. Her arms hang limply by her sides, and her entire figure gives the impression of isolation and loneliness.

Witnesses to exclusion

It is common to interpret Isen as a depiction of Lena Cronqvist's own childhood and family. The adults give the impression of something threatening, of being the source of the older child's sense of loneliness and abandonment. The artistic expression assumes an almost therapeutic character, and it can seem as if the image is a form of sharing a confidence. We who view the painting can identify with the girl and witness her exclusion.

Human vulnerability is given visual form in large parts of Cronqvist's art, which has often been interpreted biographically. Isen can be perceived as a childhood memory, an old photograph the artist has found in the family album and used as a starting point for the painting. The two children stand between their mother and father on the shores of an icy fjord. The ice covers a little over half the image. A cold, pale winter sky looms above. Isen can be interpreted as neglect – and the title becomes a metaphor for the cold to which the older girl is exposed. The season and the colours can also be perceived symbolically, as a mental state.

Loneliness and lack of togetherness characterise the entire series Familiebilder (Family Pictures). Isen is part of this series, along with Vägen, 1976, where the child literally stands in the way of the parents, and Häcken, 1976, where the trees separate the father from the mother and the child so that the child is left standing between the parents.

Private and universal themes

Cronqvist was almost 40 years old when she painted Isen, which reflects the adult artist's perspective on her childhood. The situations the artist depicts in many of her paintings often draw on her own experiences. The fact that she often uses her own features in the faces of the people in her works contributes to her art being interpreted autobiographically.  But the existential themes such as love, childhood, motherhood, loneliness and death that she touches on in her art are not only private, but also general and universal.


Cronqvist's style is figurative, objective and expressive. The images are characterised as literary because they are often based on her own experiences. She was born in Karlstad, Sweden in 1938, and studied at the University of Arts, Crafts and Design from 1958–59 and at the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm from 1959–64, and has exhibited in the Nordic countries, Paris and New York. Her work has been purchased by most of the art museums and collections in Sweden and by the National Museum in Oslo.

Text: Anita Rebolledo

  • Kunst og kultur (Arts and Culture) 03/2008 (Volume 91). Kunstneren i verket (The Artist in the Work). Wenche Koldingsnes.
  • National Museum. Highlights. Art from 1945 to today. The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, 2015
  • En Crone på verket (A Crowning Work). Review: Simen K. Nielsen:
  • Lena Cronqvist 7 March – 25 October 2020


Lena Cronqvist

Billedkunstner, Painter, Graphic artist

Born 31.12.1938 in Karlstad

Lena Cronqvist (b. 1938) is a prominent figure in Scandinavian art. For sixty years she has created life stories through paintings, graphics, sculptures and textiles. She delves into the unpleasant aspects of childhood, motherhood, illness and loss.

Cronqvist's art is autobiographical. She draws material from her own personal experiences, but transforms these into universal narratives of what it means to be human. She confronts the viewer with various existential themes. Faced with her images, we can feel the unpleasantness, anxiety, pain and empathy.

The autobiographical has gained renewed relevance in recent years in "reality literature" with Karl Ove Knausgård's novel series My Struggle (2009–2011) as one of several striking examples. Cronqvist has had this focus since she made her debut in 1965. Using her own life as a starting point, she has created a personal and recognisable world of images. The series based on mental illness, problems related to motherhood and the loss of parents stand as emblematic images of life and death.

Frieze of life

As an 18-year-old, Cronqvist visited Oslo and the Munch Room in the National Gallery. This encounter with Edvard Munch's art made a deep impression and set her on a quest for an art that conveys the journey of life. With Munch in mind, Cronqvist's art can be seen in the context of a frieze of life in its depictions of the child, the young woman, the relationship between man and woman, the woman as mother, the role of the artist, illness and death. The theme of death in the works known as the "death series" bears a striking parallel to Munch's images.

Self portrait

In line with the idea of self-revelation, the self-portrait plays a central role in the art of both Munch and Cronqvist. The repeated examination of one's own face contains interpretations of the self, marked by the passage of time. Cronqvist's self-portraits provide insight into life experiences related to childhood, motherhood and the role of the artist. Representations of mother and child are one of the core themes in her art. The relationship is portrayed without closeness or warmth, strained and on the verge of terror. Who will break down first? In this motif she draws on art history's representations of Madonna and the Child. The reference to art history helps give the images from everyday life historical depth.

A way of protesting

In 1969, Cronqvist suffered postpartum psychosis and was admitted to St. Jörgen's Psychiatric Hospital. Her stay there led to a series of paintings that dealt with the traumatic experiences of involuntary admission, medication and isolation. Should we view these pictures as a form of protest? The autobiographical aspects of pregnancy and childbirth also become political here. The use of her own life, together with a strong social engagement, allows Cronqvist's art to be seen in the context of the work of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo: Kahlo also appears as a direct reference, for example in the self-portrait of Cronqvist in the role of the artist entitled Ibland tänker jag på Frida K (Sometimes I Think of Frida K.) from 1986. Both artists have turned their own experiences into universal and political life stories.



  • Karin Sidén (ed.), Nina Weibull (ed.), Katarina Wadstein Macleod, Göran Sonnevi: Lena Cronqvist (Stockholm: Prins Eugen Waldemarsudde, 2020).
  • Kari J. Brandtzæg (ed.), Vigdis Hjort og Linda Haverty Rugg: Hode ved hode: Cronqvist, Bjørlo, Munch: kunsten og livet (Head by Head: Cronqvist, Bjørlo, Munch: Art and Life) (Oslo: Munchmuseet Uten tittel, 2017).

Work info

Creation date:
Other titles:
Isen (NOR)
Isen (SWE)
Object type:
Materials and techniques:
Olje på lerret
  • Width: 135.5 cm
  • Height: 151.5 cm
Kjøpt 1988
Inventory no.:
Cataloguing level:
Single object
Owner and collection:
Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, The Fine Art Collections
Børre Høstland
© Cronqvist, Lena/BONO