Born in Islington, London, the son of a Swedish father and English mother, the 'artist was within him' and he was wholly self-taught. Listed by Marriott as a daring yachtsman and St Ives artist, responsible for the concoction of Swedish punch, a mystic ceremony, for the New Year celebrations at the Arts Club where they met every Saturday night. He did more than any other painter to stamp St Ives as a British outpost of impressionism. He ran the Cornish School of Landscape, Figure and Sea Painting in St Ives, first with Louis GRIER and subsequently with Algernon Mayow TALMAGE.

In 1887 at the Nineteenth Century Art Society, which kept a small gallery at Dudley, West Yorkshire, 'Mr J Olsson shows a distinct poetic feeling in his treatment of March Twilight: Newlyn, Cornwall.' [AJ, 1887, p413]. This would seem to indicate that he had been in Cornwall earlier than was previously thought (at the age of 22-23 rather than 26 as previously listed for his arrival in Cornwall).

He and his wife, Kathleen (also an artist) designed and built their own home, St Eia, which contained many Arts & Crafts features (later an hotel). Students included Reginald Guy KORTRIGHT Emily CARR, Mary McCROSSAN and John Anthony PARK amongst many others. His influence as a teacher spread over a generation or more of young painters from Britain and overseas. He resided at St Ives for two decades until 1912, when he returned to London and shortly thereafter was elected an Associate of the RA. Olsson cruised with his yacht most summers.

The Studio commented: 'He knows the way from the Scillies to the Isle of Wight as most men know their way to the nearest railway station.' His work was in the late impressionist style of Henry MOORE. At the 1895 NAG Opening, Olsson exhibited two paintings, the largest Astray (a flock of sheep wandering over yellow towans), and the second, a seascape. His first sale of a painting at Newlyn was in 1897 and he exhibited regularly thereafter, selling Moonrise (1902), Off the Needles (1904) Summer Calm (1910). Other titles included Dunluce Castle, Gale Subsiding, A Moonlit Shore (1911, oils). Tovey describes well how immensely Olsson contributed to many aspects of creative and social life in St Ives, and how he remained supportive and connected to the art colony for the rest of his life. His old studio, the vast Number 5, Porthmeor Studios became STISA's first dedicated gallery space.

Olsson died of cardiac failure at St Heliers, Dalkey, Co Dublin in Ireland while on a visit to his sister-in-law's home. (Birth and death certificates/Bednar files)


Painter and Illustrator of marine and sea pieces, teacher

works and access

Works include: Sunlight on a sparkling sea; Setting out boats off the foreshore,11.5x19.5; Moonlit Shores (1911) bought by Chantry Bequest; March Twilight: Newlyn, Cornwall; In The PaperchaseThe Clouded Moon (1908); A Frost-bound River (1908)

Access: BIR; Blackburn; Blackpool; Bolton; Bradford; Cardiff; Cheltenham; Doncaster; Harrogate; Hull; Leamington; L; Newcastle; Oldham; Preston; QMDH; Rochdale; Sheffield; Southampton; Sunderland; Tate;  Worcester; York (National Railway Museum)// Adelaide; Christchurch; Nelson; Sydney

In Cornwall: RCM, Truro:  Storm Cloud

Charles Birt Collection: Messum's Catalogue: High Tide (Autumn 2010) illustrations



Exhibited: Dudley (1887); Dowdeswell, Notts Castle, Whitechapel (5) (1902) with Cornish painters; RA (175) from 1890; ROI (126); Carnegie Institute, Pittsburg (1912);  SS; GG; NEAC// Paris Salon; 

In Cornwall: Newlyn (1889); NAG (1895-7, 1912ff); Show Day, St Ives (1911); STISA Touring (1932)


Looking West (1987)

A Century of Art in Cornwall 1889-1989 CCC centenary 1989, Truro

Artists from Cornwall (1992, RWE)

Now and Then (Messum)

2024: Truro School Art Collection, Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro (30 Jan-18 May)


RBA (1890); NEA (1891); ROI (1897); STIAC: 1898; ARA (1914), RA (1920), SRA (1940); Royal Institute of Oil Painters: 1919; President STISA (1928-1942); Societe Internationale des Peintres, Paris; The Bench (legal): admitted 1907; NSA (1895ff)


Personal bibliography:

Bednar (3rd edition) Every Corner was a Painting (certificates)

Hamilton, Jane (2010) 'Julius Olsson' in High Tide, Messum catalogue (autumn 2010): Birt Collection (col illus)

Hoyle, H (Feb 2011 Women Artists in Cornwall http://cornishmuse.blogspot.com) 'Emily Carr, Talmage and Tregenna'

NAG Letterbook (2);

Stokes, A (1910) ‘Julius Olsson, Painter of Seascapes’ Studio 48 pp 274-83


Art Journal (1887) 'Some Autumn Exhibitions' p413


M Bird (2008) St Ives Artists/Place and Time (photo)


Chantrey Bequest list:

Tate On-line

Graves RA Dictionary 1769-1904;

Hardie (1995) 100 Years/Diary; (2009) Artists/Newlyn & West Cornwall 1880-1940 pp251-2 illus (bibl); [incl Dowdeswell Cat, Notts Exh Cat, Whitechapel Exh Cat, NAG Sales record, Looking West Exh Cat]

Johnson & Greutzner; 

 Mallett’s Index;

Messum Fine Art (1996) Now and Then;

Newton et al Painting at the Edge;

Paperchase, Newlyn artists journal (1908) Two reproductions

Public Catalogue Foundation (2007) Cornwall & Isles of Scilly: Oil Paintings in Public Ownership

RA Directory of Membership

 Tovey (2000) GF Bradshaw & STISA, Appendix 3: Principal Members of STISA (1927-1960)

Tovey (2003) Creating a Splash

Tovey (2010) Sea Change, Fine & Decorative Art in St Ives 1914-1930

C Wood Victorian Painters Vol I: text, Vol II: (b&w plate) The New Moon;

Who’s Who in Art;

Wormleighton  Morning Tide;

Whybrow (1994) St Ives;

Whybrow (2013) St Ives: The Story of Porthmeor Studios;