Category Archives: Scandinavia

Jugendstil in Helsinki


The island of Katajanokka, just outside the center of Helsinki, might have more Jugendstil buildings per square mile than anyplace else on earth.


It seems that in the early 1900s, when industrialization was drawing rural Finns into Helsinki, there must have been a building boom.


Builders must have raced to create castles for the common people: fanciful and beautiful apartment buildings with turrets, towers, interesting windows, and beautiful decorative elements.


We stayed in one of them, and I’d have cheerfully stayed longer. I could see myself living in beautiful, friendly Helsinki. The city is known for its style. Now I see why!

Helsinki Jugendstil Doorways


For some reason, I expected Helsinki to be a  rough-around-the edges modern industrial city. Instead I found a city full of delightful architecture, much of it dating from the early 1900s. This was the heyday of the worldwide Jugendstil or Art Nouveau movement.


I’m stopping constantly to snap a picture of yet another inviting, witty doorway. I’m loving Helsinki!

A Swedish Valentine

 

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The Nordiska Museum in Stockholm devotes a great deal of space to Swedish courting and wedding customs, for good reason.  In Sweden, folk art is still revered.

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For centuries, humble rural people in little towns and villages all over Sweden celebrated love and marriage and family using the materials at hand: wood, yarn, thread, and simple fabrics.

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A young man courting a young woman used to spend many hours carving an elaborate wooden spoon as proof of his devotion.  The woman’s parents would also be interested in the young man’s skills and willingness to work; wood carving was a necessity of life in poor farming communities where most anything had to be made by hand.

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After the wedding, the courting spoon was hung on the wall of the new couple’s kitchen, but wood-carving never ended. Country people took inspiration and materials from the natural world around them. The handy little table above incorporated a twisted tree branch as a decorative snake. Did the wood-carver’s wife appreciate having a snake forever in her house? Personally, I’d have relegated the snake table to the guy’s Man Cave.  But that’s just me.

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I’d have loved the little dog bench, though.

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Brides spent many hours making wedding finery which was then passed down through generations. The hours were precious, stolen from housework and farm work.

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Material could be precious, too–colorful scraps of silk and cotton lovingly worked into heirlooms.

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Wedding finery was carefully packed away for future brides and grooms.

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A bride might surprise her groom with a special wedding vest.

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I love the handwork on this one, and I’m sure the embroidered designs had special meaning for the couple.

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A colorful wedding proclamation was another treasured keepsake, for those who could afford it.

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A special tapestry or painted wall hanging might do double duty as a Biblical lesson about Adam and Eve, and a decoration on the wall at the wedding feast.

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Then as now, getting married can be tiring work.  A mannequin in the museum shows a bride falling asleep in her wedding outfit, maybe during the feast.  But I’m sure she’s about to wake up full of energy to start her married life.

Happy Valentine’s Day to lovers, past, present and future!

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!

Waldemarsudde: Favorite Room in Favorite House in Favorite City

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Considering the national election turmoil that’s going on in the USA this week, I’d like to transport myself to a more peaceful place:  Prince Eugene’s blue-and-white dining room in his beloved lakeside home in Stockholm, Waldemarsudde.

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It looks inviting, don’t you think?  Come on in and have a seat at the table. Here, between about 1900 and his death in 1947, the Prince entertained his friends, fellow artists, writers, and the odd anarchist.

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Eugene’s state-of-the-art kitchen, all shining white tiles, is now a little cafe. Photos of the Prince decorate the walls.

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Eugene was a handsome fellow, and must have been a charming companion. He fulfilled royal duties when asked, but mostly he lived his own life exactly as he pleased. As a younger son of the monarchy, he was under no pressure to marry.

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Whatever his lifestyle choices, it appears the Royal Family left him in peace, to pursue his art and his friendships. In his Salon, Ernst Josephson’s painting “The Water Sprite,” 1884, dominates the room.  It was considered so scandalous at the time that the Academy in Stockholm didn’t dare to accept it as a gift. I don’t think the nudity was the problem; it was the new-fangled Symbolist style.

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Eugene hung a portrait of his mother, Queen Sofia, directly across from the daring Water Sprite. She gazed gently and benevolently on her son’s private goings-on, however raffish. I’m guessing Eugene was a loving son who never caused his mother much worry.

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Eugene loved flowers.  His sunroom, overlooking the water, was always blooming.

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He designed a pretty ceramic flowerpot that’s still in use all over Sweden. I’d have brought one home if I didn’t always travel light.

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I’m already planning a return trip to Stockholm in the spring.  I’ll see Eugene’s flowerbeds filled with tulips, I hope.

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Meanwhile, I can dream of my favorite room in my favorite house in my new favorite city, Stockholm.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!

Eugene, the Painter Prince of Sweden

Prinz Eugen, Duke of Narke, 1910, painting by Anders Zorn, Public Domain

Prinz Eugen, Duke of Narke, 1910, painting by Anders Zorn, Public Domain

If I were born royal, I’d for sure want to be a younger child.  It looks to me like Prince Harry has a lot more freedom than the more direct heir to the throne, Prince William.  In Sweden, Prince Eugene was the fortunate younger son of the royal family in the late 19th century.

Eugene was born in 1865 in Drottningholm Palace, on a beautiful island about an hour by boat from Stockholm.  It’s still the home of the Swedish royal family, and makes for a dreamy visit. Eugene was fourth in line to the throne, so he was pretty much free to do as he liked. Nobody expected him to marry and produce an heir, although he did cheerfully carry out many royal duties.

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What Eugene wanted was to paint and to hobnob with artists and writers. He found the perfect spot for his home on the island of Djurgarden, with views over the water of the Stockholm skyline. He studied painting seriously, in Stockholm, Olso and Paris.

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Today, his beloved home, Waldemarsudde, is an enchanting museum with the rooms left as they were at his death in 1947.

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His top-floor studio space is a gallery with rotating exhibits, some by artists the Prince patronized during his long life.

In his studio and on his peaceful grounds, Eugene contentedly painted the Swedish and Norwegian landscapes he loved. The painting just above is a beloved country home where he spent time.

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Eugene decorated his home with the work of other artists who were his friends. He considered “The Water Sprite” by Ernst Josephson, 1884, to be one of his best acquisitions.  Josephson did three versions of this painting of a character from Swedish folklore. Eugene offered it to the Academy in Stockholm, but they considered it too daring to accept.  It seems the problem was not so much the nudity as the style.  Josephson was breaking away from the time-honored traditions of Realism and Naturalism.  He was getting into the movement that later became known as Symbolism. Eugene was more than happy to keep the painting, which dominates his salon.

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Inside Waldemarsudde, Eugene studied, read, and entertained his friends–most of them artists, and many of them partisans of the then-radical ideas of the 1880s. Although he was named the Duke of Narke at his birth, Eugene much preferred artists to royalty.

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Having seen Drottningholm Palace, the Royal Palace in Stockholm, and Waldemarsudde, I’m with Eugene.  The palaces are showplaces, gilded, confining, and a little dreary. Waldemarsudde is a light-filled home.  I’d choose the artist’s life over the Royal Prince’s any day.

 

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!

Swedish Small Tables

 

img_2974If you come over to my house, you might disapprove of my housekeeping. You might not appreciate having one of my cats jump up in your lap and settle in as though she owned it (she thinks you came especially to pet her). But you will have a cup of good coffee, and you will have a place to set it down. I have a thing about having a little table beside every single chair or sofa in my house.  When I sit down, I need a lamp for reading. I need a place for my book and my coffee cup. I think this need comes from my Swedish ancestry.

In Stockholm last month, I admired countless pretty little tables. The one above is more of a cabinet, really–all the better.  It’s in the island home of Prince Eugene in Stockholm–more about him in a post to come.  Above it, there’s a portrait of his mother, Queen Sofia.

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Prince Eugene was a younger son of the royal family, so he did not have the pressure of marrying and producing heirs.  Instead, he designed and lived out his life in a beautiful house/studio, Waldemarsudde. He was a very good landscape painter.  And he appreciated fine workmanship and artistry in all things.

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No IKEA space-fillers for Prince Eugene.

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If he wanted to write a letter to one of his artsy-Bohemian friends, he sat down at a proper desk, like the one above with its delicate wood inlays. I saw similar exquisite little tables, desks and cabinets all over Stockholm.

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The simple but beautiful little table above is really more of a shelf unit, cleverly attached to the wall. It was at the nearby Thielska Gallery, another formerly-private home full of art and distinctive furniture.

I loved Sweden.  I’ve already figured out a way to return to Stockholm in the spring.  There are any number of cups of good strong Swedish coffee waiting, with my name on them!  And there are plenty of handy little tables to set them on.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art, history and culture of Europe!