Category Archives: Scandinavia

Waldemarsudde: Favorite Room in Favorite House in Favorite City


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


No IKEA space-fillers for Prince Eugene.


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.


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!




Goteborg Doorways


Sweden’s second largest city, Goteborg, is more edgy than elegant Stockholm. It has more of an industrial vibe. But it still has plenty of beautiful doorways. The Art Nouveau gate above led into the vestibule of an apartment building near the University.  I’d move right in.

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Green doors are popular. Some are simple and some are ornate.

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Red doors are even more popular. Very Inviting!


These somber church doors reminded me of some of my more dour Swedish ancestors, who joined the great migration from Sweden to Minnesota in the 1850s. I didn’t actually get inside this church because a funeral was about to begin.  The guests, mostly very old, REALLY reminded me of my ancestors.


In the church vestibule, I opened the blue door above for a very old man who had just been dropped off in a taxi and had made it up the stairs with some difficulty. The doors in this church had porthole-like windows, just right for this seafaring city. Was the old man attending the funeral of an old shipmate?


Goteborg has a thriving waterfront–with a spectacular new Opera House. I’m already plotting a return.  I want to open more doors.

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



Doorways in Kalmar


First impression of any building: the front door. A well-chosen one is unique and inviting. This one looks like a face, don’t you think? Maybe a friendly cat?


The Swedish town of Kalmar has a lot of unique doorways. Kalmar was once an important strategic town, on the old border between Sweden and Denmark.  It still have a wonderful historic castle. Where there’s a royal castle, people always go to the trouble and expense of putting up fine homes and grand public buildings.


Some Kalmar doors are beautiful in their simplicity.


Some are  a little more elaborate.


Beautiful shades of red, blue and green are favorites everywhere in Sweden.


Sometimes flowers add color, even at the very end of the way-too-short Swedish summer.


How about some classic geometrics?


Sometimes a door invokes the past.  This one is on a grand seafront building, right next to an inviting beach.  I’m thinking “Bad Hus” means “bath house.” How about a swim?


Not today. It’s early September. Leaves are changing and the days are getting cold in Sweden. We’ll have to wait for summer! I hope to be back.

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

Kalmar Castle Doorways


Kalmar is a pretty town on the Swedish Baltic coast. It has a spectacular Renaissance castle on a site that was of strategic importance for many centuries, starting about 800 years ago.


Naturally, it has spectacular doorways, beginning with the dry-moated entrance.


Some of the doors are clearly defensive.


Some are more decorative, but still formidable.


Some are meant to impress and possibly intimidate, like the one just past the drawbridge.


This door features the regal lions of Sweden.


Inside, doorways reflect the luxurious tastes of kings and queens.


The doorways of Kalmar Castle are all worth entering.  Everything is more spare than Renaissance castles and palaces in England, Austria, Germany, France or other European countries.  But that very spareness has its own Nordic elegance. The castle is a fascinating look at the unique ways that Renaissance ideas played out in Scandinavia.

The shop has books about Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots, apparently because most of the major rebuilding and decoration of the castle was done during their lifetimes. And at least one Swedish prince was known to have courted Elizabeth I. Of course, we all know that she said “No!” to marriage. But at the time, Sweden was a great naval power.  I wonder if Elizabeth gave some serious thought to a Swedish alliance. How might history have been different if she had said “Yes!” to a Swedish prince?

Castle doorways always lead me to questions like this.  It’s why I travel.

Stockholm Subway Art


img_2795It goes without saying that Stockholm metro trains are clean, bright and efficient.


But the subway experience is also artful, like so much else in Sweden.


All subway stations have some kind of cheerful art.


It might be on tunnel walls.


Or it might be on the floor. And the floor is almost always clean enough to drop something without worrying about the 5-second rule.


A piece of sculpture might greet you as you enter.


Or museum artifacts might have a special spot in a station.


In beautiful art-filled Stockholm, there’s always something to see–even underground.

Saturday in Stockholm: Love Is In the Air



Each and every Saturday all year long, SIXTY couples get married in the Oval Room at City Hall. That’s 60 different sets of plans and dreams! That’s 120 people! They apply several months in advance for one of the coveted five-minute slots for a civil ceremony. Couples are told to arrive 15 minutes before their time slot. They spend the time either alone together, or with a few friends and family members.


No doubt most people have checked out the venue ahead of tiime, but the city thoughtfully provides a helpful sign.


A young woman with a clipboard stands at the door of the wedding room, keeping things moving.


As many as many as fifteen people can fit into the room where civic officiants wait. But many couples choose to enter by themselves. I always cry at weddings, even when I don’t know the people.  Here they are, off together on the journey of the rest of their lives.

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I was touched to see this older couple emerge, duly married, but each escorting an aged mother.  If the rest of Stockholm were not waiting to be seen, I could have watched this scene all afternoon, from noon to 6 pm when it’s over for the week.


There’s joy all around.


Considering the bloated wedding industry in the USA, this Swedish tradition is refreshing. Instead of spending many thousands of dollars trying to have the “perfect” wedding and reception, these folks choose to get the job done simply.  Many of them go off with a few friends and family to a nice restaurant meal, and that’s it.


Of course people still get married in churches, too.  Or they get married in nice hotels and restaurants, with charming details like the little soap-bubble bottle shown above. That’s a pair of white doves perched on top, in case you were wondering.


The soap-bubble bottles were given to guests waiting outside a restaurant, later in the day, to cheer a happy couple when they emerged.


The City Hall is one of the most beautiful buildings in Stockholm, right on the waterfront.  I’m hoping to see the inside today.

I love the tradition of short and sweet weddings. I’ve been married for many years–long enough to remember when a pretty nice wedding consisted of a church ceremony followed by cake and punch in the church parlor. But if I were planning a wedding, I’d get on the City Hall list.  They do say that they have cancellations.  So another tactic would be to wait for the next opening!  Either way, I wish all the couples years of happiness.