My dear travellers and lovers of extraordinary trips, I hope you are well and ready for a new adventure on the Mr.M blog. Today’s post will be the last post for the month of July (sorry for the confusion that I made with the previous post) and also the last letter in the series of posts from Sweden.
Before I start today’s post, I would like to remind you of some of the previous posts from the edition of letters from the Kingdom of Sweden, so if you haven’t had time to read the previous stories or maybe you want to remind yourself of some interesting details, spare a few minutes of your time and by clicking on the following links, visit some of the previous travelogues from Sweden:
Today I will share with you my impressions of the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm and I would like to thank the Visit Stockholm for the invitation and the amazing experience to get to know the culture and customs in the heart of Scandinavia.
The Nationalmuseum (National Museum of Fine Arts) is the central Swedish state museum in Stockholm, and also the largest Swedish art museum. The collections of this extraordinary art treasure house consist of various works of painting, sculpture and art on paper from around the 16th century to the 20th century, as well as arts and crafts and design objects from the 16th century to the present day. The total number of exhibited works reaches an incredible figure of almost 700,000 objects. The National Museum is located on Blasieholmen in Stockholm in a building designed for this purpose by the German architect Friedrich August Stühler. The building was completed in 1866, but the museum’s history is older than that and goes back to June 28, 1792, when the Royal Museum was founded. The National Museum is therefore one of the oldest art museums in Europe.
The collections were moved to Blasieholmen after previously being partially housed in the Royal Museum, which opened in 1794 in the north wing of the Royal Palace in Stockholm. As with several other national art museums, the collections are largely based on generations of royal collectors, which for various reasons passed into state ownership. For example, works that belonged to Gustav Vasa can be seen today in the Nationalmuseum.
The museum’s activities also go outside the box, so you can see certain works outside the building on Blasieholmen. The National Museum also includes a collection of portraits of the Swedish state exhibited in Gripsholm Castle. In addition, objects from the museum’s collections are exhibited in a number of museum institutions throughout Sweden.
This museum has a long history and I will try my best to briefly explain some of the most important historical moments related to this institution. In the early history of the National Museum, as with several other European national galleries, the history of the National Museum is largely synonymous with the development of royal, state and more widely available collections. In Sweden, the foundation for today’s state art collections was laid in the 18th century. Several works included in the collection of the National Museum, for example a part of French paintings from the 18th century were once owned by Queen Louisa Ulrike. By 1777, the queen’s financial situation had become unsustainable, partly as a result of a large and expensive investment in art. The debts were settled by her son, the then Swedish king Gustav III, in exchange for her giving up her collections and Drottningholm Castle.
For today’s Nationalmuseum, it is important that the king did not use his own financial means, but the state’s, which prevented the collections from being dispersed during the succession. It is likely that state funds were also used when Gustav III, after the death of his father Adolf Frederick, acquired several works of art, including Chardin’s Tecnarin. At the same time, the king also made an important acquisition of the collection of drawings by Carl Gustav Tessin that Adolf Fredrik had bought from him in 1755. The collection of drawings was immediately donated to the Royal Library, but was then transferred to the Royal Museum when it opened in 1794.
How did that transformation from a royal art collection to a state museum take place? There are no official records that can explain to us what Gustav III intended with his museum arrangement. It was believed that he was targeting a publicly accessible institution, but recent research has shown that there is no reliable evidence for this. It should be remembered that the significance of making something available to the public was somewhat different then than it is today, which is why it is believed that the royal museum would have become a private matter, accessible to those who could be considered competent. Regardless of Gustav III’s intentions, the Royal Museum was founded on June 28, 1792, just three months after the king’s death.
At that time, they did not have prepared rooms for exhibitions, and the work on the building was not finished after the king’s death. The transfer of the artistic heritage was carried out in December 1792 and was of great importance for the future of the museum. During the work on the registry office, the significance of the financial resources (state or private) used by the king for the acquisition of art collections was highlighted. At that time, there were no firm laws governing what was considered the king’s private property and what was state property.
Through the transfer of inheritance, all the king’s art collections became state property. In this way, the king’s art collections became the property of the people, but only later would they become fully publicly available.
The first decades of the 19th century were an extremely difficult period for the museum. The lack of interest combined with very little resources bordering on non-existent meant that the work was kept alive by the energy of the museum’s dedicated staff. The lack of funds made new acquisitions largely impossible. At the same time, many of the great museum collections in Europe were created at this time thanks to an aggressive acquisition policy, supported by more concerned courts and the bourgeoisie. From 1817 the Royal Museum did receive an annual grant from the State, but this was insufficient for anything more than the maintenance necessary to save the collections from total decay. However, the donations saved the museum because they legitimized the museum as its own authority.
However, rather poor economic conditions made it difficult for the first part of the 19th century to pass completely uneventfully. The most significant thing that happened at that time was the large acquisition of sculptures by Johann Tobias Sergel in 1815. After Sergel’s death, the Royal Museum was able to acquire all the sketches of plaster and terracotta sculptures that were part of his work.
It can be said that the acquisition and installation of Sergel’s sculptures marked a turning point in the exhibition activities of the museum because it represents both classicism and indigenous art. Because, at the same time when the Sergel collection was presented to the public in artistic Sweden, voices were raised who wanted to shift the focus from classicism to domestic and nationally oriented art. In this context, it may be noted that in 1818, King Carl XIV Johan commissioned from Bengt Erland Fogelberg colossal sculptures representing the gods Asa Oden, Thor and Balder. They will later be placed in the Royal Museum.
Later in the 19th century, painting will have a more significant place in museum activities, as can be seen from the documentation on the drastic changes initiated by the museum director. The director took the museum into the 19th century in a completely different way with a new color scheme, associated above all with the Danish and German Biedermeier, and the exhibitions were arranged in a modern way for that time, from the classically oriented Enlightenment principle to the provoking imagination, romantically suggestive exhibition aesthetics.
The 20th century brought certain innovations, so the department of modern art was founded in 1952. The first exhibition was a tour of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica in October 1956, when the renovation of the museum was completed, the facility was named “Moderna Muzeet”, which was officially opened on May 9, 1958. Until 1975, the Modern Museum was a subdivision of the National Museum.
Later, the Modern Museum became a unique separate institution, which together with the Nationalmuseum and the East Asian Museum was part of the joint body Statens konstmuseer. When the Modern Museum became an independent institution in 1999, the Statens konstmuseer changed its name to the Nationalmuseum from Valdemarsudde Prins Eugen. At the same time, the East Asian Museum was transferred to the newly formed State Museum of World Culture. A few years ago, in 2017 to be exact, Valdemarsudde became an independent foundation again, and the authority has since been called the Nationalmuseum.
A large number of works in the museum’s collections come from the royal collections of many generations. From the gallery of Gustav Vasa’s paintings that were in Gripsholm Castle, it is possible to identify with certainty several paintings that are now in the National Museum. Gustav Vasa’s collection consisted mainly of works of art by Northern European painters.
Of the works with a past in royal ownership, many were acquired on the background of various personal preferences, but also several examples of objects that came to royal collections in the 17th century as war booty.
A large part of the works that today are considered to form the core of the Nationalmuseum’s collection of paintings before 1800 mainly come from several collections: Karl Gustav Tessin, Queen Lovisa Ulrike, King Adolf Fredrik and Gustav III. However, several of the most important works in the royal collections were acquired through Tessin in various ways.
These collections were dominated by French, Dutch and Gustavian Swedish painting, which greatly influenced the composition of the National Museum’s collection as it looks today. Several of the museum’s Rembrandt works are owned by these people, as well as other important works from 17th-century Holland and some from Flanders from the same period.
One ff these four collectors, Carl Gustaf Tessin undoubtedly had the greatest importance, not least because a large part of the collections of Adolf Fredrik and Lovisa Ulrike ended up there under his care. At the age of nineteen, Tessin went on a grand tour during which he stayed in Paris between 1714 and 1716. He would later return several times, but during this first visit he acquired a large number of master drawings and 23 so-called contre-epreuves by Antoine Vato and met several artists of that time.
Later, Tessin returned to Paris, now in better financial conditions as he was appointed overseer responsible for the building of a castle in Stockholm, succeeded his father and married a wealthy heiress. He now acquired paintings by artists such as Francois Lemoine, Francois Desport, Nicolas Lancrat and Jean-Baptiste Pater.
However, he did not buy anything from Watteau, whom he held in high esteem. The explanation for this can be seen in the fact that the artist has now passed away and that Tessin has concentrated on living artists and that the prices of Watteau’s works have risen. Being in Paris also meant buying art in the name of building a castle. From Paris he traveled to Venice to try to negotiate a contract with Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, but without success.
Later, in 1739 Tessin returned to Paris again, where the art scene behaved differently with the re-established salon from 1737. During this visit, he focused on François Boucher and Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, acquiring among others Boucher’s Triumph of Venus, which was shown at the Salon of 1740. Tessin also made several purchases of Dutch paintings on the Paris market, mostly through the art dealer Edme – François Gersen. Among those works, Rembrandt’s Portrait of a Young Woman in Profile and Constantin Verhout’s Sleeping Student are significant.
Until 2013, when the Nationalmuseum building on Blasieholmen in Stockholm was closed for renovations, several temporary large exhibitions were shown annually. Some examples were Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Design by Sigward Bernadotte, Terribly Beautiful, Deceit the Eye, Pre-Raphaelites, Caspar David Friedrich, Rubens and van Dyck, Concept Design, The Shape of Time, and Slow Art. In the gallery of engravers, smaller exhibitions with works mainly from their own collections are shown.
The museum borrows a large number of works for exhibitions in other museums in Sweden and abroad. In the Nationalmuseum, research is carried out on the basis of its own collections as a starting point, as well as its own publishing activities.
The Nationalmuseum also has a picture archive. The museum is also in charge of the Art Library, which is one of the largest art libraries in the Nordic countries and is a joint library of the Nationalmuseum and the Modern Museum.
The museum has a department for conservation, photography and art management with orientations according to the objects of each collection. The department works on the preservation of objects and cooperates with the Department of Collections and Research on technical research.
The Nationalmuseum manages, in whole or in part, the collections of objects in a large number of visitor destinations throughout the country. These include, for example, Drottningholm Castle, Gripsholm Castle, Ulriksdal Castle, Nines Castle, Lacko Castle, Lovstabruk Castle, Vadstena Castle and the Gustavsberg Porcelain Factory. The Orangery Museum in Ulriksdal Castle and the Museum de Vries in Drottningholmsmalmen preserve the central parts of the museum’s sculpture collection. Since 2018, the National Museum has a branch in Ostersund – the Jamtli National Museum.
Until July 1, 2017, Prins Eugens Valdemarsudde belonged to the competent National Museum with Prins Eugens Valdemarsudde. The authority (now called only the Nationalmuseum) falls under the Department of Culture. The association of friends of the Nationalmusei vanner museum was founded in 1911 by the then Crown Prince Gustaf (VI) Adolf and over the years has made a significant contribution to the museum’s collections.
The Nationalmuseum in Stockholm was closed on February 3, 2013 for renovations. The museum was in need of extensive restoration and renovation, as the building was badly worn from heavy use. Several technical systems in the museum have reached their useful life.
The Nationalmuseum reopened on October 13, 2018, and the opening ceremony was personally performed by King Carl XVI Gustaf in the presence of members of the royal family, Minister of Culture Alice Bach Kunke and thousands of visitors. The museum’s exhibition space has been expanded and can now accommodate twice as many visitors and display almost three times as many works of art. In addition to the technical update, previously blocked windows and skylights have been opened to create more daylight and views towards the city. The noisy restaurant got a better, quieter location and was replaced by an airy and quiet sculpture garden. The museum has restored a color scheme inspired by the original palette.
My dear travellers, we have come to the end of the fourth and at the same time last special post from the Letters from the Kingdom of Sweden, which would not have been possible without the selfless help of the Visit Stockholm in cooperation with local partners who allowed me to feel the spirit and beauty of Swedish culture and tradition. Of course, as always, I tried my best to convey to you my impressions of this unusual experience from Sweden.
Time always flies when a person is having a good time! A person is rich in soul if he has managed to explore the world and I am glad that I always manage to find partners of my projects who help me to discover new and unusual destinations in a completely different way during this global health crisis of COVID-19.
I am honoured to have the opportunity to cooperate with companies that are the very top of the tourism industry and I would like to thank them for this incredible adventure and for allowing me to experience the beauty of this unusual city in Scandinavia in a completely different way.
How did you like my story about the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm? Have you had the chance to visit the heart of Scandinavia so far?
If you have any question, comment, suggestion or message for me you can write me below in the comments. Of course, as always, you can contact me via email or social networks, all addresses can be found on the CONTACT ME page. See you at the same place in a few days, with some new story!
With love from Stockholm,
This post is sponsored by the Visit Stockholm, as well as other local partners. This post is my personal and honest review of the destination experience.