scandinavian romanticism. art.

Gathering Scandinavian romantic artists turned out a harder task than I initially thought. For vast majority of European countries romanticism ruled over minds and souls in the first half of the 19th century - depending on a region it could be 1800s and 1810s (Germany, France) or 1820s and 1830s (Central Europe). In Scandinavian countries romantic art was created throughout this period, however it wasn’t the dominating style. Actually, the official dates for Swedish romanticism are 1840-1875, so when in most European artists have moved on to new forms. Therefore it was hard to cross a line and include or leave out specific artists. My text and galleries contain pieces created by people remembering Gustav III, as well as those who experiences the first world war.

Marcus Larson, Norwegian Fjord in Moonlight. Motif from the Sogne-Fjord, 1861, Nationalmuseum

Marcus Larson, Norwegian Fjord in Moonlight. Motif from the Sogne-Fjord, 1861, Nationalmuseum




I believe that is the most common and easy to perceive connotation for the whole romantic movement. This is a clear influence of what was happening in German states. Yes, German states, because there was no Germany as a country that we know today. It never existed before - it started due to romanticism. Of course, other factors like political situation also influenced this process, but it took couple of decades and romanticism had a great impact at it in the beginning. After the defeat in Napoleonic wars, German states had to undergo deep, structural reforms. The reorganization of them with Prussia on top as the strongest one in the region, was driven by great philosopher and thinkers. Their aim was to create the concept of German nation and make the citizens realize that it’s common for all of them, it’s the base of their identity. In order to do that, specific components were needed like common language, beliefs, cultural patterns, history, everything that could influence the mentality and switch people’s thinking into perceiving themselves not part of a state (or not just), but part of a nation. Even if other European countries did not need all of that, artistic patterns and values attached to them, spread all over continent.


Sweden had established borders, people spoke more or less the same language, there was no sign of broader social disturbance. However, the awareness of Swedishness was mainly common for aristocracy and upper class. Beginning of the 19th century meant the rapid growth of middle class, plus, romanticism ideally should reach every member of the society, even the peasants, who in next few decades move to the cities. There was a need for symbols or events that joins all citizens (and no longer subjects) and conduct a clear moral message. Many artists reach to historical painting, which combined all the advantages: education, moralization, perspicuity, and thanks to technological development it became much more available for larger audience.


Artists used famous historical figures and events, for example Gustav II Adolf, Erik XIV, Sten Sture the Younger. Carl Gustaf Hellqvist depicted important moments in the history of Sweden, like introducing protestantism. Gustaf Cederström created one of the most famous Swedish painting, which is the conduct of the body of Charles XII. It can compete for recognizability with Carl Wahlbom’s painting “Death of Gustav II Adolf at the battle of Lützen. Georg von Rosen tried to capture the perplexity of Erik XIV. Johan Gustaf Sandberg’s and Georg Pauli’s paintings followed very often the scheme of presenting historical events, but they were even more filled with symbols as they served as decorations of Uppsala Cathedral or Nationalmuseum. Very similar role served some Carl Larsson’s paintings, also being painted on walls of public institutions. Beside historical figures, Norse mythology was also a great source of inspiration for Scandinavian artists. It is the 19th century to blame for popularization of Thor, Odin, Loki and other gods that today are money spinner with their romantic entourage. One of the artists, famous for his myth inspired sculptures, was Bengt Erland Fogelberg.

Artists mentioned above had nothing to do with romanticism or their style varied and can be categorized differently over decades. This proves the complexity of art and all social and cultural processes, that never happens overnight.