Swedish art & architecture
Sweden’s location in the north of Europe and its relative poverty kept it isolated from European artistic life for much of its history. But today Swedish artists are as likely to take their inspiration from overseas as from closer to home.
Among living Swedish artists, the work of Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd (born 1934) is perhaps the most recognizable. His signature piece is entitled Non-violence. A bronze sculpture of a pistol with its barrel tied in a knot, it stands outside the United Nations headquarters in New York and can also be seen at several other locations around the world, including Stockholm, Malmö, Gothenburg, Berlin and Beijing. It is a tribute to John Lennon.
Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd's statue 'Non violence' outside the entrance of the U.N. headquarters in New York Photo: Reuters/Lucas Jackson/Scanpix
The late 19th and early 20th century was a golden age for Swedish painters. Anders Zorn (1860-1920), perhaps the best-known Swedish artist, was active during this period. Zorn achieved considerable success during his life and after his death. He’s known for paintings of the people from his home region, Dalarna, and for nudes depicted in open-air settings. He was also a celebrated portraitist who could count three American presidents among his subjects.
The fact that industrialization came late to Sweden helped preserve the country’s tradition of craftsmanship. Swedish glass, whether for art or for practical daily use, is popular around the world. The best comes from companies such as Kosta and Orrefors in the Glasriket (Glass Kingdom) of Småland in southern Sweden. Making the most of the country’s abundant forests, woodcarving also has a proud artistic history in Sweden. The most famous and certainly the best-selling pieces are the Dalahästar, or the Dalecarlian horses, from Dalarna.
Modern Swedish architecture has its roots in the Nordic Classicism movement of the early 20th century. Combining classical traditions with new ideas emerging in Germanic cultures, one of the most striking examples is Gunnar Asplund’s Stockholm Public Library. This functional rotunda was the first library in Sweden to use open shelves, where visitors could browse and select books for themselves.
In post-war Sweden the housing standards were poor, which led to a massive functional building project in almost all town and city centers, plus widespread dormitory housing. This was known as the Million Homes Project. The widespread use of pattern-book architecture subsequently came in for much criticism and in the 1970s the postmodern era began, heralding much more adventurous building styles. This, in turn, took up modern trends such as minimalism and hi-tech. A recent example of the latter is the Kalmar Museum of Art, a four-level black cube clad in wooden panels with large glazed openings.
Hammarby Sjöstad in Stockholm was built as an eco-town — a good example of the Swedish “green welfare state” approach to housing developments. As well as being ecologically innovative, it expresses the Swedish government’s mandate that all citizens should be provided with a decent, safe, affordable home that is sustainable in the long term.