Metaphysician

Ejnar Hansen
Metaphysician
Oil on canvas, c. 1950
48 x 36 inches
Gift of the Virginia Steele Scott Foundation
1980.040

Ejnar Hansen’s art is expressionistic and dark, aligning him with fellow Scandinavian artists such as Edvard Munch. Hansen immigrated to the United States in 1914 and by 1925 was living in Pasadena, where he became a highly regarded portraitist and instructor in the region’s art institutions.

Hansen is well-known for creating a series of piercing yet sympathetic portraits of the artists and others in his social circle. His Metaphysician shows a mysterious character who is presumably privy to esoteric knowledge, alluded to in the spectral geometric shapes he seems to conjure up on the table in front of him and the odd object (perhaps an amethyst crystal cluster) that he points to in his right hand. His penetrating blue eyes gaze at us as though attempting telepathic communication or, as befits a metaphysician, asking questions about the fundamental nature of reality.

But one senses that all is not well. The dark and ambiguous space with its small, highly placed window conveys claustrophobia and entrapment. What is he trapped by? His own searching mind? We know that the sitter for Metaphysician was a friend of the artist, a mathematician named Jack. Hansen’s masterful figure studies of his friends were both portraits and occasions to abstractly convey an intellectual message or deeper interpretation of life.