Whether you are into art or speciality museums, old or new, exotic or traditional, Stockholm offers more than one place you will enjoy. In this post, however, we focus specifically on three museums that share a common story and come from almost exactly the same period.
I hope we can agree that the turn of the 20th century was a golden age of architecture not only in Sweden but many places around Europe, if not the whole world. At the time, urbanisation and industrialisation of the society created numerous possibilities for individuals to come across great wealth, although often at a great price.
Such individuals obviously resided in Stockholm, too. What is even more interesting, the stories of the three museums I present in this post show the colliding worlds of two distinct groups of society right at the time when power slowly moved from one group to the other.
The past is represented by Prince Eugen, a monarch and a representative of the long era when the Royals held the largest fortunes and most of the power. On the other hand, Ernest Thiel and the von Hallwyls embody the upcoming modern society where bankers, businessmen and women dominate the wealth rankings.
No matter their background, all of the above-mentioned individuals had a strong passion for art and a desire to build residences where they would not only feel good but which would also represent them in the best light possible.
Starting with Walther and Wilhelmina von Hallwyl, we are about to discover their impressive residence in the heart of modern Stockholm. The couple moved to the Swedish capital in 1883 after Wilhelmina’s father, from whom she inherited a timber empire, passed away.
While Walther became the head of the inherited company, Wilhelmina started realising her passion for collecting art. A decade later, the 10-room apartment they rented did not offer enough space for their collection, and so, they decided to build a place that would meet all their needs.
The von Hallwyls put much trust into the hands of Isak Gustaf Clason, the architect they appointed for the job. Finding the right piece of land to build on was among Clason’s many responsibilities. Seen from the present-day perspective, the architect’s judgement was excellent. This might not have been obvious at the time, though, as Hamngatan, where the palatial residence stands, could not be considered a central location back in the 1890s.
Meant to be both representative and comfortable, the residence offering plentiful space for the growing art collection grew from tradition. Dark interiors dominated by dull shades of green and red with oriental carpets and heavy curtains preventing the daylight from entering the space, presented the ideals of a classy residence back in the day.
While enjoying the creative freedom provided by the owners together with an unlimited budget, architect Clason was happy to use only natural materials of the highest quality to complement his design inspired by the Renaissance architecture in continental and southern Europe.
Hallwyl Palace was eventually completed between 1894 and 1898 when the construction price, including the cost of the site on which it was built, surpassed 1.5 million Swedish kronor.
Years were passing by, and the von Hallwyls realised they would not get any younger. Their beloved art collection was too important to them to not ensure its bright future, though. Therefore, Wilhelmina drafted her testament in which she and her husband donated their impressive residence together with the art it housed to the Swedish state.
Obviously, this only happened under the conditions that they would reside in the property for the rest of their days and that following their deaths, it would be turned into a museum. It was also among Wilhelmina’s requirements that the future head of the museum be an educated woman, which was her way of supporting women in the workforce.
What can you see in the Hallwyl Palace? You may be asking. Apart from the original interiors and lavish furniture that Wilhelmina and Walther von Hallwyl once enjoyed, you will get to see their backyard and a large collection of art from different parts of the world they assembled during their lifetimes.
From the eastern end of Hamngatan, we move down the world-famous Strandvägen all the way to the Royal Djurgården. This is where the remaining two residences-turned-museums which I would like to introduce to you in this post are located.
What might appear as a remote place judging by the fact that you need to take tram number 7 to its final stop, is actually still a part of Djurgården fairly close to the city centre. The beautiful cape that you would find there is where Prince Eugen, son of King Oscar II and a passionate artist, decided to build his home.
As I hinted above, Eugen was not merely an art collector. Himself, he belonged to the most respected Swedish painters of his era and was especially well-known for his mastery of capturing natural landscapes on canvas.
It does not come as a surprise that the prince’s residence was designed by a renowned architect, in this case, Ferdinand Boberg. Boberg designed both the main building and the adjacent gallery which was built a few years later, and these were not his only buildings on the extensive green island.
Although spacious, Prince Eugen’s Waldemarsudde (Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde) is in many ways rather subtle. It features a light-yellow façade without especially lavish décor. The interior of the building was designed in a similar style but do not be mistaken, it is still every bit as impressive as you would expect.
The rooms in the house are well-lit and furnished to create a very cosy atmosphere for the visitors. Overall, it takes advantage of the beautiful surroundings of the property to the greatest extent possible allowing the mesmerising views of the sea.
Gardens surrounding the turn-of-the-century residence, completed in 1905, are where you would find the most exclusive decorations. With numerous sculptures, fountains, and flower beds, this is a place where every romantic soul can enjoy some lovely moments. Speaking for itself is the fact that I am writing this post sitting on one of the white benches overlooking the bay lit by the sunset.
You can, of course, explore the gardens and the residence on your own. If you decide to go inside, you will get a chance to see the original prince’s home and atelier, as well as some of his greatest works. Moreover, the upper floors of the mansion and the gallery house temporary exhibitions of contemporary art, predominantly by local authors.
In case you are wondering, the museum first opened to the public in 1948, a year after Prince Eugen donated it to the state at the time of his death. Interestingly, in 2017, Prince Eugen’s Waldemarsudde was named Sweden’s Museum of the Year, and so, it seems that it deserves its title of “Sweden’s most beautiful art museum,” too.
From what we have seen so far, Prince Eugen seemed like a nice person. However, Ernest Thiel, the hero of the next part of our story, would likely have disagreed with this judgement. That is because Eugen was the reason he had to build his home in the most remote part of Djurgården.
You see, the thing is that Ernest Thiel, a banker and an art collector, was also a passionate follower of Nietzsche’s now famous but still controversial philosophy. As a representative of the archaic, aristocratic society, Prince Eugen did not want to be associated with Thiel’s liberal ideology. Hence, when Thiel planned to build his home near Eugen’s, the prince was not in favour and eventually got his father, the king, to veto Thiel’s right to build in the location.
It appears, though, that the banker was satisfied with the alternative of building in the easternmost part of the island, known as Blockhusudden. While Waldemarsudde was still under construction, Thiel employed architect Boberg to design his new home, too.
Looking at the two buildings from the present-day perspective, it is remarkable how different they are considering they were built almost simultaneously, designed by the same architect, and are located in a similar location.
In my purely subjective view, the Thiel Gallery comes across as more elaborate and pretentious of the two residences.
Nevertheless, it was their passion for art that connected Prince Eugen and Ernest Thiel, and it was also art that was at the centre of Boberg’s design of the Thiel Gallery. From the very beginning, the building was not only meant to be a representative home but also a place where Thiel could display his growing collection of contemporary art.
At the inauguration, in 1907, it looked as though the architect met his client’s needs and that the banker would take great pride in his new home for many years to come. In a way, this was true, but nothing lasts forever, and Thiel had to give his farewells to the house sooner than he expected.
Once one of the wealthiest businessmen in Sweden, Thiel’s fortune vanished with the arrival of the World War, and he was soon forced to sell his beloved residence in an attempt to save the art collection that he painstakingly assembled.
Eventually, he sold the estate, as well as the art it contained, to the government in 1924 for 1.5 million kronor. Only two years later, the gallery opened its doors to the public, and it has been showcasing the contemporary art of local artists ever since. At the same time, a visit to the Thiel’s Gallery remains a visit to the lavish lifestyle of the richest residents of Sweden from the turn of the twentieth century.
As Ernest Thiel very well knew, this lifestyle cost more than one person everything they had and often even more.
Hopefully, by now you are excited to visit these state-of-the-art homes from the late 19th and early 20th century, but if you need more reasons to get to know them better, I include links to their websites below where you can find all the information you need about their current exhibitions, admissions, and more.
If you enjoy stories like the one, you just finished reading, sign up for our newsletter below and get more directly to your inbox. Consider spreading the joy of discovering new places with your friends and family by sharing this post.