In Stockholm you should go on a brief sea voyage in skerries on one of the boats that dock in the very center of the Swedish capital. Soon after sailing from the wharf you will see a beautiful straw-colored villa on your left located on a picturesque cape close to an old windmill painted light burgundy – Falun red – which is a symbol of Motherland for the Swedes.
What is the villa and who owns it? There are other beautiful and pridefully-rich buildings close to it on the cape. However the villa distinguishes itself. It is the Waldermasunde Palace. It may be quite overstated to call it a palace as Russians have seen a lot of tsarist luxury that is superior to many royal buildings in the world. But in Sweden they call them palaces. Prince Eugen lived and worked in the palace. He was the fourth and the youngest son of King Oscar II and is known in Swedish history by his hobby which was untypical for royals. Do not imagine anything bad as he was simply an artist and one of the central landscape-painters of Swedish fine arts of the late XXI – early XX centuries. He was neither a genius nor an amateur but just a good artist.
There is nothing surprising in his artistic hobby as the education course of royal offsprings included at the time (and likely includes today) a set of esthetic disciplines, including music, dancing, handicraft and drawing. In most cases the training ended in nothing. They learned the course and would only sometimes remember it.
It was different with Prince Eugen who was a genuine artist. He was not the sharpest pencil in the box, by nevertheless. . . We can count only one or two professional artists of royal blood. Besides many paintings, the prince is also known as a patron of arts who did a lot to develop them. He used his money to buy paintings of other artists and had a big collection of them. He built a house on Cape Waldemarsudde and added a gallery to keep the paintings and one sculpture. But all in good time. . .
Between easel and crown
Prince Eugen Napoleon Nicolaus of Sweden and Norway was born on August 1, 1865 in Drottningholm Palace, the royal summer residence near Stockholm. Residents of the capital were informed about the event by a 42-gun salute. The parents were Crown Prince Oscar and Princess Sophia of Nassau.
Eugen was the youngest kid in the family to which only boys were born. In that sense the father and mother should have been happy as they produced more than enough resources for the family to continue and expand. In those times monarchs stuck to the old traditions when the crown was inherited exclusively by males. In 1980 the rule was abolished and current King Carl Gustaf XVI can be succeeded by any of his children – two daughters and a son. The senior one will be the heir .
As Prince Eugen had three elder brothers – Gustaf, Oscar, and Carl – and little chance to take the throne he was calm about it as his place among substitutes was the last. However it did not free him from the feeling of responsibility of a son of a monarch as anything may happen in life.
When Crown Prince Gustaf married Princess Victoria of Baden the second eldest son Oscar fell in love with her maid of honor Ebba Munk, a daughter of a military man. The law on royal succession said that if a prince of the blood marries a common woman he automatically loses the title to the throne. Oscar faced the choice and love took the upper hand. As for the duty to the crown there were two more brothers in the reserve and no major threat to the future of the royal family. As a result of Oscar’s left-handed marriage Carl and Eugen made one step up the succession ladder. Although the family reconciled with headstrong Oscar two other heirs swore not to marry a commoner in any case. And they stood up to the commitment. Carl married Princess Ingeborg of Denmark while Eugen remained single all his life.
As a prince of the blood Eugen had to participate in official life. He did it perfectly and attended numerous ceremonies, receptions, dinners, functions, and travelled abroad to represent the king and visited other monarchs. In 1894 he was in Petersburg as a representative of the Swedish Royal Court to attend the funeral of Alexander III. In the same quality he participated in festivities devoted to the 60th anniversary of the reign of Queen Victoria.
He was the fourth and the youngest son of King Oscar II and is known in Swedish history by his hobby which was untypical for a royals.
There was also military career. A prince is destined to be a military man. Eugen did everything necessary. He was a Hussar officer, wore the uniform when necessary, participated in exercises, but did not enjoy it all. He once wrote to his mother from maneuvers: “It is no pleasure to be a bad officer. To devote much time to military service means to abandon painting.” As a Royal Family member Prince Eugen could not sell his paintings like other artists. He was stripped of a major criteria of assessing works of art – public demand through market purchase- sale. The only thing he could do is to present his paintings to museums and various institutions.
His father Oscar II was also fond of creative activity. Hr wrote verses which were published under the pseudonym Oscar Fredrik. In 1857 at the age of 28 he was even awarded the second prize of the Swedish Academy (today it awards the Nobel Prize in literature) for the poem From Recollections about the Swedish fleet. The full collection of works by the king numbered seven volumes.
Paris universities of Eugen
Eugen early developed interest in drawing. Relatives played a major role in developing his artistic inclinations: uncle Prince Cark painted landscapes, Princess Eugenie wrote novels, composed music, and sculptured. She did a lot to make the prince love drawing and handiwork in the broad sense of the word. In 1886 after two years in the University of Uppsala the prince wrote to his mother that he had decided to study painting and the only place for it was Paris. It was a tumult for the conservative family to hear about Mont-martre which the prince would definitely visit despite his prudence. And how would they treat the prince? Can there be a scandal? It was no royal business for sure. . .
“Paris is dangerous and humiliating today for a prince in contacts with French artistic bohemia,” the king wrote to Kronoberg Governor Gunnar Wennerberg who supervised the prince during studies in Uppsala. Prudent Wennerberg tried to calm down the father-monarch saying idleness and entertainments do not know geographic boundaries. “Délice de Capoue is everywhere, and the prince is resolute to reject “everything vicious, ugly and rude”, he wrote adding there were many worthy teachers in Paris.
The monarch reconciled with his son’s wish in the final end. He confirmed it in a letter to Eugen when he was already in Paris: “My dear boy, much time has passed since you left from the Central railway station. Parents should not be egoists and should better think about their children rather than their own joy!” Sending his son to Paris the king asked his acquaintances, the Selsing couple to move there as well to “give shelter” to his offspring. Naturally the king was worried and wanted for somebody to look after the son. In France Prince Eugen lived under the name of Monsieur Oscarsson. It was a tradition for Royal Family members to change the name when departing from homeland. Travelling incognito also attracted attention. The new name was only logical – father Oscar, his son Eugen and all together it makes Oscarsson. It is noteworthy that the surname of a not distant relative of Eugen, the founder of the royal dynasty to which he belonged, was French. Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte was the name of Napoleonic mrshall who was adopted by childless Carl XIII in 1810 and took the throne under the name of Carl XIV John.
Eugen’s teachers in Paris were artists Leon Bonnat, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, and Henri Jourdain. The prince studied art and led an active high life, visited museums, concerts, cafes and theaters. In 1888 Eugen was in Theatre Lyrique when a chandellier unexpectedly fell from the ceiling and crashed close to him. The prince was safe and sound.
In April 1988 revanchist General Boulanger revolted against the republic causing unrest in Paris. Eugen was not scared but curious about the developments. He wrote to his mother: “Naturally, I was in the streets and followed the unrest” although Selsing was not very happy about it. However it was a part of the basic education of the prince to experience public disorders himself.
In Paris Monsieur Oscarsson acquainted several Swedish artists – Gustaf Cederstrom, Anders Zorn, Carl Larsson, Rickard Berg, Per Ekstrom, and Dane Peder Severin Kroyer who comprised the zest of Scandinavian art. He naturally got acquainted with French impressionism which produced “a fresh and worthy impression” on him.
The prince was a decent student. During the first “Paris period” he mastered the basics of painting and achieved a certain level of skills. In 1889 two of his pastels were selected for the Swedish pavilion at the World exhibition in Paris which coincided with the centenary of the Great French Revolution. Sweden, as well as Germany, Turkey and Montenegro ignored the festivities.
Landscape – beloved genre of His Majesty
Eugen has been self-critical and soberly assed his abilities since young age. “Even if I do not become distinguished, and I am sufficiently critical of myself to understand that it is true, I will never regret the choice of my path and will be very pleased if I succeed to do honest work free of deception”, he wrote to the father in 1888. Professional career of Prince Eugen began at the time. In 1889 he was elected honorary member of the Swedish Art Academy and next year his pastel with a Stockholm view and The Summer Night in Norway painting were displayed in an art salon in Paris. The Academy included him with two other artists into the state commission in charge of acquiring works of art.
In 1893 Stockholm hosted an exhibition of artist Ernst Josephson, a talented, versatile (also a poet) and unbalanced man (he was sick with schizophrenia and died under the patronage of two noble ladies). It features his main painting Necken (nude young man as a spirit of water playing a harp at a waterfall). Despite all artistic merits the state commission refused to buy the painting. The decision of the National Museum w as also negative.
The prince was indignant at the decision as he could not understand how they failed to “comprehend” the outstanding masterpiece. He bought it himself and the painting was hanging in Waldemarsudde Palace. He ruled it can be removed only in one case – if the whole of the palace is evacuated.
Eugen’s teachers in Paris were artists Leon Bonnat, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, and Henri Jourdain.
In the first half of the ’90s the prince painted his most distinguished pictures: Old Castle, Last Sun Ray, Both Poplars (1893), Cloud (1895). They all reflect his deep mood and a feeling of internal dignity. They make you think and touch your soul. Before the death the prince left detailed instructions about the burial which also ordered that besides the national flag over the coffin with ducal crown placed in the big hall of the palace gallery there should be also Good Pastor painting by Juakim Skovgaard in the center and the Cloud and the Old Castle on the sides.
The genre of landscape was consonant to the internal world of the prince. Otherwise he would have hardly achieved such results. However I would dare suggest that despite all initial affection to the genre it contained something subconscious related to his duties imposed by origin. In contrast to portraits and genre painting the landscape and still life are devoid of “scandal virus” capable in favorable environment of instigating public opinion, scandalizing the author, and attracting attention of the public which enjoys gossip. Due to seeming neutrality and absence of conflict the genre mostly suited the artist of royal blood who in his creative activity had always to remember what he was, weigh all words and deeds to avoid unintentionally casting an imputation on crowned relatives.
Prince’s friend and genius of Swedish painting Anders Zorn also admired Swedish nature. Forest, water, and cliffs are its main symbols that were excitingly depicted on his canvases. On the background of the beauty the artist liked to place nude bathing peasant women – local beautiful, healthy, naturally tempting females with genuine femininity. The way he painted them produced a hymn to life which could be copied by a royal family member in the same free and reckless manner. Maybe today, but it was unlikely at the time. Noblesse oblige.
They often say that Prince Eugen painted in a manner close to impressionism. I am no art expert and cannot be sure about his style. However training in Paris and acquaintance with impressionists and their works could not but tell on his style and technique. The prince studied the basics of painting like all others – by classical canons. Later he began to search for his personal style and means of expression. It happened in the early ’90s. It is interesting to note that the brush of the prince produced an original painting – The Temple of Happiness in pointillism technique. Designed by the first neo-impressionist Georges Seurat the technique is also called divisionism. In contrast to its native France where it was used by numerous artists including Pissarro father and son the technique was rarely used in Scandinavia. Among the Sweden Anders Zorn seems to have come close to divisionism with his characteristic brushstrokes and love to instantaneous impression.
Color as felling of life
Like all major artists Prince Eugen studied the theory of color, including great Goethe who worked not only in literature and is known as the author of Faust and the Sorrows of Young Werther. The ideas of the prince were based on a symbolic postulate that each color correlates with the human soul and reflects certain feelings or their tints. Feeling, perception, mood. The notions were specifically important for the prince. It can be seen at first glance in his paintings. When you thumb a catalogue the absence of people strikes your eye. There are no people at all in most works. Only the artist and nature, sometimes also buildings and sculptures. Still landscape or landscaped still life. An object for attentive observation.
The prince was interested not only in easel painting. He was also distinguished as artist of monuments. When the construction of a new royal opera house was underway he expressed readiness to participate in painting its interior. His lot was the foyer. Eugen painted the Haga Moods triptych depicting a park with a royal palace in Stockholm. The town hall has his City at Water fresco. Two Stockholm high schools have the Bright Night, Summer, and Sun Over City panel pictures. In Kiruna Church he painted the altar. The concert hall in Goteborg has his wall painting Country of Recollections, while the antechamber of the Caroline hospital – the Copper Serpent alcove fresco. The foyer of the Royal Drama Theater (which staged plays by Ingmar Berger for a long time) welcomes spectators with his refined Frost-dew fresco.
In many cases, specifically when the talk was about decorating educational establishments, the prince participated in the project as an artist and patron of arts. He paid the work of his colleagues without remunerating himself. A son of the Swedish monarch, Eugen was no traditionalist although his origin demanded him to be. He was a self-made man. He lived by his own mind, acted according to his own perceptions of honor and decency, was not afraid of different opinions, including majority opinion and possible gossip, open criticism, and rumors. He was ready to struggle against the stream if it was necessary for his convictions.
I already said what he ordered to do with the painting of Ernest Josephson. The same happened with the Granddad sculpture by Per Hasselberg which depicts a nude boy on the knees of his grandfather. For many people it was insulting and newspapers demanded to move out “indecent rubbish”. However despite negative public attitude the prince defended the bronze sculpture of Hasselberg which currently stands in Humlegarden P ark close to the Roy al Library.
When August Strindberg (whom the prince liked and who was disliked by his royal parents for liberties in relation to crowned highnesses) and his partner August Falck decided to open the Strindberg Intimate Theater they lacked money for that. Eugen provided financial assistance to them and when the writer died came to bid him farewell. However no representative of the Swedish Academy or the Royal Court came to the funeral.
In contrast to many representatives of the right-wing circles in Sweden who advocated the ideas of Pan-Germanism, Prince Eugen rejected Nazism although Germany was perceived as a country of culture at the time. In 1933 he wrote to his friend Garry Fett that he did not want “to look for excuses and explanations of violence and breach of law.” The strict position of a representative of the royal court embarrassed many people.
Distinguished Swedish traveler, ethnographer, writer and public figure Sven Hedin who was a staunch supporter of Pan-Germanism and Hitler publicly asked whether the prince was “engaged in salon Bolshevism out of spite to the king and the foreign ministry.” The prince in the meantime signed an appeal to protect “German refugees” who included numerous Jews and then participated in the creation of the committee to assist refugees. The right-wing circles called the document “a scandalous appeal”. But the prince was not confused by it. He was a genuine free artist!
The prince lived over a half of his life in Waldemarsudde. Initially he came to the place to paint his landscapes and admired its picturesque views and loneliness. He later leased a part of a small yellow house on the cape which was called Old House after the construction of the villa. The house is still there. In 1899 the prince bought it together with the land plot and in 1905 there was a newly-built palace several meters away from it which offered an inexhaustible source of inspiration for Eugen.
It was there that he painted many of his works, big and small, completed and uncompleted, sketches and drawings. It seemed to him that Waldemarsudde was constantly turning a new facet to him and offering new light nuances.
In 1913 the prince added a gallery to the palace which he united with the main building by an underground passage. He displayed his big collection there which included both his own paintings and works by other artists: Anders Zorn, Carl Larsson, Ernest Josephson, Niels Kruger, Eugen Jansson, Bruno Lillieforce. . .
The genre of landscape was consonant to the internal world of the prince. Otherwise he would have hardly achieved such results.
Rodin’s Thinker sits with his back to the water on a steep bank in the park in front of the house. Nike of S a m o t h r a c e spreads the wings at the entrance to the southern facade. Hercules by Antoine Burdelle braces a bow in front of the northern entrance which cannot be seen from water and completely differs from the southern one. Carl Milles is represented best of all. The prince left it all to the people.
Today Waldemarsudde is one of the most beautiful museums in Stockholm. Prince-artist Eugen like they call him in Sweden was buried close to the Old House. His grave is inconspicuous – a small grey regular-shaped stone with a laconic inscription: Prince Eugen. 1865-1947.
for Amber Bridge