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.


David Damant said...

France under Louis XIII and the young Louis XIV had for long had Cardinals Richelieu and then Mazarin as first ministers. After the death in March 1661 of Cardinal Mazarin, Louis XIV ( then 23) was whom should we address matters of state? me,replied the king. "Le roi gouverne par lui-meme" says the medallion at the centre of the Hall of Mirrors. Thus, was the order for the removal of Descartes to France amongst his first acts? A cardinal might not have agreed with the views of Descartes, whose works were placed on the Index of Prohibited Books by the Pope in 1663. But maybe Louis took a different view

David said...

How did I guess before I read it, Sir David, that your tangent would be Descartes?

Of course it strikes me now that my previous city was Montaigne's Bordeaux...only connect.

david damant said...

How intelligent and human were these French philosophers, and how wise their insights as compared with the dangerous and unrealistic obscurities of German philosophy

Susan Scheid said...

So much to take in here, and all wonderful. Of course you are whetting the appetite for our own summertime trip to that part of the world, though for us, as you know, it will be Finland. You remind me with the images of the Thiel collection, of an enjoyable trip to NYC's Scandinavia House for a Centennial retrospective of Scandinavian Art in America. I'd meant to write a post on it, but it's one of many that got away. Munch was represented, and from the exhibit catalogue I see Larsson (just as you describe his work, with a Christmas scene) and Liljefors were represented, too, though the latter by only one work, and not as appealing as the ones you show here. And beyond the artwork, the customs house! the heronry! and all the rest. And of course I'm curious about what Descartes was doing buried there (for a while). Must make a mental note to look that up.

David said...

Indeed, Sir David - just been reading Cees Nooteboom on Kant's most odious Weltanschauung and couldn't agree more.

Sue - it would be reductive of me to say woods and water are what Finland's entirely about too, but you should get some of the same landscapes. Which reminds me that I need to get back in touch with Hilkka of Ainola to make sure you have the personal touch chez Sibelius

Howard Lane said...

Such beautiful images, I always want to immediately go to wherever you visually record, even the birch trees call out although there are plenty to be found here in Blighty.

My tangent is that my former work colleague is moving to Sweden with his wife, soprano Julia Sporsén. She will singing Violetta in La Traviata at Folkoperan in Stockholm and Kumudha in John Adams’ opera A Flowering Tree in Gothenburg in February.

We are planning to see her in Julian Anderson's new ENO work Thebans next month.

Totally off-topic, my new flexatone had its first outing at the English Magic exhibition opening in Bristol last week, and Rowan went straight from that to the Animate Orchestra, an LPO workshop for children using Zimmerman's Phototopsis as the basis for a composition, performed at the Clore ballroom. I'm so proud of her many talents.

David said...

Clearly a visit is in order for you (all?) to Sweden, Howard, especially worth seeing A Flowering Tree in lovely Goteborg. Poor Julia had a tough call in the much-lambasted Fledermaus. I thought she was a mezzo in The Passenger, but clearly not.

Keep us posted on your flexatonal activities. Back on that post, I just had a fascinatingly informative comment from our musical saw artiste, Berlin-based Katharina Micada, which chimes (wails?) with what an orchestral musician said about her friendly communicativeness.

And still on the LPO note, how fascinating that Photoptosis project must have been. Wish I'd known. I've reviewed the concert for The Arts Desk (hope Rowan got to hear it) and was very glad to hear Zimmermann's masterpiece again (Susanna Malkki conducted the BBCSO in it a couple of years ago). Be interested to know what Rowan thought. Perhaps you could coax a couple of sentences out of her here or over on TAD?

Howard Lane said...

I hadn't thought to include the concert in the day's plan, but it wasn't practical with both Luke and Rowan and having to ensure Rowan's steel pan got home safely, and going for a pizza reward with Carla and her boyfriend afterwards. It was the least I could do given the hard work involved in a 3 day workshop plus rehearsal and performance.

Rowan was very impressed by the LPO's percussionist who showed her how to use four beaters, and "can play anything" including piano and guitar. We shall listen to the piece on GooTube and I'll ask Rowan for her thoughts. I don't know Zimmermann at all so I have a lot of exploring to do.

David said...

For all the percussion battery in the Zimmermann, it was the trianglist attacking with two beaters in the Brahms 4 scherzo who impressed the most.

I fancy Photoptosis needs to be experienced live: it might not make too much sense simply heard. But there's definitely a line through it and an expressive urgency which lifts it, for me, above Boulez and Stockhausen.

Susan Scheid said...

How very nice of you to think of us with regard to our trip to Ainola, David! I was listening to Sibelius symphonies much of yesterday and thinking of your comment about enjoying swimming around in the soup. It turns out there are many more of the symphonies that I don't know than those I do, so there is much to discover. I enjoyed coming back here to the additional discussion, too. The Animate Orchestra sounds like so much fun--and such a great idea, too.

David said...

Thought of you too after the perfect Turn of the Screw, which I know you would have reeled at and which gave me goosebumps for the first time since I shunted scenery around at Aldeburgh back in the mid 1980s - I had to come to Lyon's mini Britten festival to see it. Ravishingly beautiful, disturbing and apt visuals courtesy of Fura dels Baus director Valentina Carrasco in which a giant cat's cradle/spider web catches up all the furniture of Bly in its web, fine singing - including a great young Governess from the opera project here - and beautiful, almost Debussyan sounds from the 13 players under the fabulous Kazushi Ono. More from him tonight in Yoshi Oida's production of Grimes. Missed Curlew River owing to Eurostar meltdown. We were lucky to get here at all on Thursday - though at 23 00 instead of the intended 18 00.

As for other Sibelius symphonies, alas that there are only seven, none of them inordinately long...and now you can hear the fragments believed to belong to the Eighth on John Storgards' new CD cycle.

Susan Scheid said...

The Lyons Turn of the Screw sounds stunning. I hope I get a chance to see/hear it at some point. Do you know whether it's slated to go on DVD? Glad you made it back all right--that was quite a delay! Now, off to the garden to do some preliminary clean-up, then back to NYC for three concerts this coming week!

David said...

All I know so far is that it's been recorded by France Musique, but whether that's sound or sound + vision I'm not sure. I want it to be seen, though: its only rival in my memory is a Scottish Opera Tramway production by Graham Vick from the early 1990s which one of my students had on a video - never made it to DVD.

The Grimes was more flawed, but had great moments, as well as more superlative conducting from Ono, and it was the genius of the piece itself that had me in floods of tears nearly all the way through Act Two.

Kindly the admin offered another night and a changed return so that I could see today's afternoon performance of Curlew River, but there were ailing mothers to be visited and we had the bliss of a lively afternoon in Paris yesterday - as well as a smooth homeward journey, thank goodness. May your garden finally bloom as ours all are.

Catriona said...

Lowering the tone somewhat, I think your duck is a barnacle goose.