Per Ekström was born on the Swedish island of Öland in the Baltic Sea. From 1865 to 1872 he studied art at the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts in Stockholm. While studying he was close friends with the author August Strindberg, who was slightly older. Strindberg based the character of the artist in his novel ‘The Red Room’ on Ekström. the painter in turn dedicated one of his early works to Strinberg, inscribing his name on the back of Landscape After Sunset (1869), which hangs in the National Gallery of Stockholm.
It was while living in France from 1876 to 1890, that Ekström adopted the beliefs and methods of the French Impressionists, and he was greatly inspired by their plein-air technique. Ekstrom lived in Paris at a pivotal moment for European art. He spent almost five years painting in Normandy, based in the village of Carolles, and was greatly inspired by the French master Corot.
Meanwhile, painters such as Monet were challenging the traditional ideas held by the Academy. The Impressionists believed there was honour in painting everyday scenes and quiet landscapes, whereas their predecessors had seen this genre of painting as a lesser art to History Painting, for example. Unlike some other Impressionist painters, who merely claimed to have made their paintings out in the open, Ekström was fully committed to completing his landscapes in-situ. He is arguably the most adept landscape artist in Swedish history.
Throughout his life, Ekstrom dedicated his work more and more to what would become his artist’s hallmark; the effects of light – especially contra-jour, and the subtle tones of sunrises and sunsets – which were also popular subjects for other members of the Swedish Impressionist School. In 1910 the artist moved back to Öland. Because of the acutely accurate way in which he could capture the qualities of sunshine and the air in his work, he was nicknamed ‘Solmålaren’ (the sun painter), by his fellow artists.