Wednesday, 16 April 2014
To the Thielska Galleriet
It was a dazzling sunny March morning in Stockholm, so what better than to walk to the most outlying of the city's many galleries and museums, the collection of Swedish banker Ernest Thiel (1859-1947) in the grandiose villa he had built by Ferdinand Boberg in 1904?
By a not unhappy chance, the Gallery wasn't where the Rough Guide put it on the map: that turned out to be the Maritime Museum, where a nice lady gave us a bigger and better map which showed we had another couple of miles to walk across to the former royal hunting grounds on the island of Djurgården and its westernmost tip on the Baltic. Better still, we'd be able to walk back to the city centre via a different rustic route. From the map on the noticeboard at the entrance to the Djurgården, which of course we only saw on the way out of the park, here's the furthermost part of the island with the Thielska Galleriet illustrated.
So let's embrace the grand sweep. We packed up and paid for our night in a clean, comfortable and quiet hotel with a lovely breakfast room, the unpromisingly titled 2Kronor in Norrmalm, and strode out past the church opposite
down to the 18th century Adolf Fredriks kyrkan, unprepossessing enough from the outside but surrounded by a pleasant cemetery with crocuses in abundance.
The inside is minimalist but boasts some fine monuments, not least this one to Descartes, who was buried here for 11 years until his body was removed to France in 1661,
and one of the few which can boast a camel on top, in memory of the explorer Sven Hedin.
Even the modern fixtures sit naturally within the white space, not least this crystal font
and outside there's a simple memorial to Olaf Palme, shot dead outside the cinema opposite in 1986 - a crime that shocked Sweden out of its liberal sense of security.
Then up the hill on the other side past the Johannes kyrka, one of several grand cousins to Victorian St Augustine's Kilburn but with a pleasing wooden church in its grounds
and past the Royal Library with workers and students basking in the sun through the posh district of Ostermalm, with its deco designs writ large (as is so much, rather inappropriately, in central Stockholm).
Linnegatan finally ends at the waters of Djurgårdsbrunnsviken, where a statue of Diana and a stag (Actaeon transformed) reminds you of the hunting grounds across the inlet.
Stockholm's suburbs now give way entirely to nature,
with plenty of joggers and strollers out in the spring sunshine. Here's bracket fungus on a waterside tree
and now we're out on to the Baltic via a narrow canal which is all that separates Djurgården from the mainland.
Around the shoreline, and then the over-imposing dome of Thiel's villa on an eminence comes in view.
We were, of course, ready for lunch after our exertions and the Thielska Galleriet's light, airy cafe serving superlative soup and cakes did us proud (the house has been under state control since Thiel, virtually bankrupted after the First World War, bequeathed it in 1926). We'd just missed an exhibition on naked Swedish manhood, worse luck, which meant that the downstairs rooms were empty, but the gallery spaces on the first floor are the thing, approached by a staircase immediately displaying the idiosyncratic nature painting of the wonderful Bruno Liljefors, a good friend of the not entirely conventional Thiel (who described himself in the third person as 'a banker with a mind of his own').
All the interior shots, incidentally, were taken without flash, and there was no-one in attendance in the empty rooms to ask if I could or couldn't: what a delicious far cry from National Trust properties where you'll be mugged by anything up to five old volunteers in attendance wanting well-meaningly to intrude on your absorption.
Undoubtedly, despite many more obvious masterpieces, the picture I'd most like to take away with me from the Gallery is Liljefors' Winter Hare. This one, reproduced on Wikimedia Images, isn't quite the same, with the hare more in motion and less snow clumps on the vegetation, but it gives you some idea.
Liljefors also painted a very fine scene with a curlew which would be my second choice. The next great painting hangs above the piano in the central first floor room. In Five Portraits Vilhelm Hammershøi, now hugely popular in the UK thanks to a stunning Royal Academy exhibition and the championship of Michael Palin, depicts his younger brother and four friends in sombre mood around a table with candles and glasses (in one of the Thielska's few marketing ploys, you can buy replicas of those glasses). I'd use the Wikimedia image but it's much too dark.
A room to the right is all contrasting light, hung with the mostly sentimental pictures of Carl Larsson. I do like the two male portraits either side of the clock here, though.
And then comes another surprise, of which the leaflet with its very strange choice of illustrations gives no hint: another large gallery room full of Munchs, including his portrait of Nietzsche above a hideous piece of furniture which would surely give the philosopher a nasty turn in his grave.
I'd like to know more about Thiel's connections with Nietzsche. I think the acquaintance might have stemmed back even to before he took up with the circle of cultured Signe Hansen, the woman for whom he so scandalously left his wife. At any rate Thiel funded a luxury edition of Also sprach Zarathustra and a proposed Weimar archive. It's not surprising, then, that the death mask of the great man greets one in an attic room
surrounded by Munch prints, all of which remind me that this is the aspect of the artist's work I like the best.
The Scream looks best in that form, too: Thiel's lithograph has a hand-written insciption which reads 'Ich fühlet das grosse Geschrei durch die Natur' (' I felt the great scream [resounding] through nature'). Back in the downstairs room there's also a treasurable version of the girls on the bridge
and Munch's portrait of Thiel himself (left)
while up the stairs three of Strindberg's nature scenes, perhaps not his best, hang together
next to a vivid Toulouse-Lautrec and an exquisite tiny Vuillard interior.
Now it was time for the exterior - mostly under scaffolding, but haunting at a distance under the beeches beyond the wall.
A haze had gathered over the view of the distant Stockholm skyline (third picture up top) and we rounded the peninsula past the old customs house where boats enter the city harbour were obliged to stop.
Snowdrops appeared on a nearby rise
and then we arrived at the bird-loud lake we'd only seen (and heard) from the other side of the canal.
Its chief attraction is the heronry high in the trees.
I'd never seen one before, and so it was all the more surprising - and just a little deflating - to find a smaller one on the lake island of Regent's Park a couple of weeks later. This one, though, was rather spectacular
especially as I'd always thought of herons as solitary birds, perched at distances along the Thames. We even saw a couple on one of the nests
and further east a duck or two I'd be pleased if someone could identify for me.
Palace buildings and monuments became more frequent as we came closer to the park entrance, including this statue of Jenny Lind.
And then, with one look back across the Djurdgårdsbrunnviken to the radio tower on the Ladugårdsgärdet,
we were at the gates
and crossed the most picturesque of Stockholm's bridges
back to Ostermalm, passing Dramaten where years before we'd seen an interesting production of Three Sisters with each act set in a different 20th century decade, and Bergman actress Stina Ekblad (the androgynous Ishmael in Fanny and Alexander) as one of the sisters.
Bergman has the most miserable street imaginable named after him behind the theatre
but there are grander allees up towards the Konserthuset, namely the cinema street of Kungsgatan, with the familiar Svenska Film motif everywhere
and the gigantic towers of, what, the 1930s, giving a green light to the outsized developments of later years. With which, as our day's walking was over and we had only to return to the hotel before heading out for our friends in deeper nature further south, I take my leave in a shot to complement our starting point.