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Hannah Ryggen

Threads of Defiance

Hannah Ryggen (1894–1970) was a Swedish-Norwegian modern artist who began her career as a painter before switching to creating political art in the form of monumental tapestries. Combining the decorative and the political, Ryggen was ahead of her time with her turn to “political weaving.” She was also a feminist with strong communist sympathies involved in the international workers’ movement. Her dramatic, beautiful tapestries were shown at both the Paris and Brussels World’s Fairs, but she was largely forgotten by the international art world in the decades after her death. In recent years, however, as interest in both fiber arts and pioneering women artists has grown, Ryggen’s work has returned to the public eye, with major international exhibitions and fresh attention from curators, collectors, and critics.

A widely recognized authority on Ryggen, Marit Paasche brings this important Scandinavian artist to the foreground in this biography, the first published on Ryggen in English. Paasche looks at Ryggen within the social, political, and cultural contexts of her time and explores how these issues informed her work, from her anti-fascist tapestry that depicted a spear piercing Mussolini’s head to one protesting the war in Vietnam. Published to correspond with a major retrospective in Frankfurt, of which Paasche is one of the curators, Hannah Ryggen is a foundational book that will provide a crucial introduction of this artist to a broader audience.

288 pages | 150 color plates | 6 1/2 x 9 1/2 | © 2019

Art: Art--Biography, Art--General Studies, European Art

Women's Studies


"In the early Renaissance it was the most prestigious art form of all; now tapestry is back, part of a reputational revival of textile arts that’s also unclouded the achievements of neglected modernists. One is the Swedish-born Norwegian weaver Hannah Ryggen (1894-1970), whose monumental tapestries, drawing on Picasso’s deformed figures and steeped with feminist and anti-fascist conviction, come to life in this newly translated biography, illustrated in color throughout. . . . Ryggen lived on a farm with no electricity, she even used the urine of (ideally drunk) men to dye wool, but she was no 'outsider': Ryggen was acclaimed throughout her lifetime in Norway, and this biography establishes her as a model of artistic and political engagement."

Jason Farago, Times Critics’ Top Art Books of 2019 | New York Times

"The biography extends previous scholarship with narratives around individual tapestries, personal letters and photos, interviews, and newspaper articles. Examination of the artist’s life and times is critical to this book because Ryggen’s weaving is so much an expression of her personal experiences. Ryggen’s deep connection to her family’s Norwegian farm, its animals, and the natural environment guided her art’s subjects and weaving materials of linen and naturally dyed wool. During the turbulent times of the early 20th century, Ryggen remained constant in her belief in art’s social function to reveal the consequences of politics. Because many issues that concerned Ryggen during her lifetime have returned to the international political stage, this is a timely biography of a woman who is once again regarded as a major artist. This is an excellent book for those interested in how artists' lives and times influence their art choices and for young artists interrogating art as social commentary. . . . Summing Up: Essential. All readers."


"Paasche’s subtitle for the biography is especially telling. She emphasises Ryggen’s belief in hard work as a determinant of equitable society and her confidence that a combination of utilitarian and aesthetic value could shape ethical and popular thought. Ryggen viewed as absurd that political art such as her own should be privately owned. . . .[This book is] likely to encourage the inclusion of Ryggen’s remarkable tapestries in future surveys of the period."

Burlington Magazine

"Using primary sources, Ryggen expert Marit Paasche brings us a much fuller knowledge of the artist, weaving her life and work into a story that illuminates not only the artist herself, but also 20th-century art history in general. [ . . . ] Including a comprehensive selection of works, this book provides an enthralling account of a remarkable, and unjustly overlooked, artist."

ArteMorbida Magazine

"A well-written document of a fascinating and turbulent time for Europe and its effect on an artist who engaged and wove to the full the life around her."

Norwegian Textile Letter

"Threads of Defiance crackles with Ryggen’s idiosyncratic voice, made possible by Paasche’s extensive work in the artist’s personal archive. Once private, these papers are now accessible at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology Library in Trondheim. Not only does Paasche make rich use of them in allowing Ryggen to recount her own life, the book’s notes also correct previously published inaccuracies. . . . In making her radical critique newly available to readers in English, this volume by Paasche is indispensable to art historians and general readers alike."

Woman's Art Journal

“A fascinating book . . . such a remarkable life and astonishing work, and so relevant in relation to growing recent interest in artists who work with fabric and textiles.”

Frances Morris, Director, Tate Modern

“Hannah Ryggen . . . is indeed a remarkable artist and her work is of increasing interest.”

Marina Warner, Birkbeck College, University of London

Table of Contents

1 The Use of Hands
2 Liberation
3 Ørlandet’s Black Hannah
4 Denunciations
5 Confidences
6 Hardship and Breakthrough
7 Handicraft and Fine Art
8 Picasso and Philomela’s Tongue
9 Weaver’s Revolt
10 Perpetual Motion
11 Shirt of Flame
12 We Are Living on a Star
List of Works
Bibliography and Sources
Illustration Credits

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