- The Thiel Gallery was completed in 1907 as a private residence and gallery of Ernest Thiel
- At the time, Thiel belonged to Sweden’s wealthiest individuals
- It became a public gallery in 1926
- The gallery’s collections consists primarily of contemporary art of local artists
More than one of Stockholm’s foremost private residences have been turned into public buildings over the course of the city’s impressive history. These often reflect not only the original owner’s wealth but also their philosophy, hobbies, and worldviews. In this post, I present you the story of the former residence of a banker, passionate art collector, and a mindful man with a deep interest in Nietzsche’s controversial philosophy, Ernest Thiel.
Although Thiel originally came from Norrköping, about a two-hour drive south of Stockholm, where he was born in 1859, he grew up in the capital. It did not take long before he temporarily left his homeland to gain professional experience in the more economically powerful Germany.
At the age of fifteen, Ernest Thiel started his career as a banker in Hamburg. Banking and finance turned out to be the field where Thiel would excel for many years to come. Quickly climbing the professional ranks, he returned to Sweden and a few years later, founded the first company of his own.
By the mid-1890s, less then a decade after the start of his entrepreneurial journey, he was considered one of Sweden’s richest men.
Thiel’s passion for art did not come to light until he met his second wife Signe Hansen, though. Signe was an educated woman skilled in art and literature who also introduced her husband to Nietzsche’s philosophy.
However, just like with his first wife with whom he had five children, Thiel, now a father of seven, later split up with Signe.
This was only after they had lived in their impressive residence together for a number of years. The residence, now known as Villa Eoskulle or simply the Thiel Gallery (Thielska Galleriet), was a dream come true for Ernest Thiel who dreamed up his ideal home as a combination of a lavish residence and a spacious gallery showcasing the art of contemporary artists.
When the time to realise his dream came, he approached one of the most renowned Swedish architects of the time, Ferdinand Boberg, to draw his villa. At first, they planned to build near another of Boberg’s famous works, Prince Eugen’s Waldemarsudde (Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde) at the Royal Djurgården in Stockholm.
Prince Eugen opposed the idea because of Thiel’s philosophical views. Reportedly, the Royals wanted to distance themselves from the liberal ideology of Nietzsche that Thiel as his public follower presented.
Eugen’s father, King Oscar II, was on his side and eventually vetoed the banker’s right to build in the area. The only place that was available on Djurgården for Thiel to built at was the remote part of the island known as Blockhusudden.
Clearly, the location proved to be acceptable, and the construction of the much-anticipated home with a major gallery began in 1904. The building of the Thiel’s Gallery is noticeably different from other structures designed by architect Boberg. His inspiration for the building came from the Orient, as well as Southern Europe. Still, he managed to incorporate elements of the then-popular Jugendstil into his design.
By 1907, the construction was completed, and Thiel’s select group of guests invited to the ostentatious inauguration party could admire the unique tower decorated by glazed green bricks, as well as the asymmetric form of the villa underlined by several balustrades, balconies, and cupolas.
While he could not have guessed it at the time, the inauguration ceremony of his lavish residence with the gallery of his dreams turned out to be the peak of Thiel’s career and, perhaps, life.
In the years after, his financial situation started deteriorating and his downfall was accelerated by the arrival of the World War. As he himself put it in a letter to a friend written in 1922, he “lost everything he had and much more…”
Forced to abandon his dream which had once become a reality, Thiel sold his residence to the Swedish state in 1924 for 1.5 million Swedish kronor in an attempt to save the gallery and its valuable art collection.
Despite later proclaiming that he was “a genius of failure,” this step did save the gallery which was opened to the public already in 1926.
Although the building became a listed historic site in the fifties, its style was affected by several changes made early in the latter half of the 1900s. Most of these were, however, reversed in later renovations around the turn of the 21st century when the façade received its original white finish while the interior walls were once again painted pearl grey.
What has never changed is the impressive glass roof on the top floor of the building which lets plentiful light into the rooms despite the walls purposefully having few windows to make enough space for paintings.
Likely the most famous of rooms in the gallery is the so-called tower room decorated by a colourful frieze, stucco décor, and even Nietzsche’s death mask highlighting Thiel’s affection for the philosopher.
Outside of the house, which is somewhat hidden in the pleasant greenery of the Royal Djurgården, you would find a charming garden with sculptures created by noteworthy artists including Tobias Sergel, Auguste Rodin, and Gustav Vigeland. Thiel’s remains are also resting in the garden since he passed away in 1947.
You might still be wondering, though, what awaits you in the gallery apart from the elegant interior if you decide to visit it today. Thiel’s art collection largely consisted of works of local authors from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century which is what the gallery’s speciality is to this day. Among the more well-known authors, I can mention Bruno Liljefors, Edvard Munch, to whom an entire hall was dedicated, and Richard Bergh.
The gallery regularly displays temporary exhibitions of contemporary art, too, so the best thing you can do to find out what is currently on display is to visit their website where you can find all the relevant information.
This post tells a story of a man and his dream residence. A man who started as a small-town boy, fairly soon had it all, yet ended up with little while his residence continues to carry on his legacy and brightens up the day of many visitors every day. This story should be both inspiring and humbling, and I hope you agree that it has a deeper meaning and that you enjoyed it.
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Thielska Galleriet. [sfv.se].
Söderholm, Carolina, 2006. Djurgårdens juvel. [popularhistoria.se].