It's true that this museum cannot compare to the national museum collections in France, Italy, Spain, and England. But as Spencer Tracy said of Katharine Hepburn, "There's not much meat on her bones, but what there is, is choice."
Founded in 1792, the National Museum is one of the oldest museums in the world, and it's Sweden's largest and best museum of world art. The museum grew out of a small collection of art from Gustav Vasa's collection at Gripsholm Castle. Over the years the collection expanded from bequests, purchases, and even spoils of war acquired during the country's emergence as a military powerhouse in the 1600s. Many of the best paintings derived from the Royal Collection of the Swedish monarchs, which became the property of the Swedish nation in the late 19th century and early 20th century.
This treasure house of painting and sculpture lies at the tip of a peninsula, a short walk from the Royal Opera House and the Grand Hotel. In all, the museum owns 600,000 artworks (only a few of which are on display at any given moment) from the late Middle Ages up to the 20th century, with an emphasis on Swedish 18th- and 19th-century art. The collection of Dutch painting from the 17th century is rich, and the 18th-century collection of French paintings is regarded as one of the best in the world. Carl Gustaf Tessin, during the years he was the Swedish ambassador to France in the 1740s, brought contemporary French art of the highest quality back to Stockholm. Naturally, the museum is also a good showcase for Sweden's two most famous artists, Anders Zorn and Carl Larsson.
The first floor focuses on applied arts (silverware, handicrafts, porcelain, Empire furnishings, and the like). First-time visitors, if pressed for time, may want to head directly to the second floor. Here, among the paintings from northern Europe, is Lucas Cranach's amusing Venus and Cupid. Also displayed is a rare collection of Russian icons, most of them -- such as St. George and the Dragon -- from the Moscow School of the mid-16th century. Note that only a few of these pieces are usually on display.
The museum also shows an exceptional number of masterpieces by such artists as Perugino (St. Sebastian), Ribera (his oft-rendered Martyrdom of Bartolomé), El Greco (Peter and Paul), Giovanni Bellini (Portrait of Christ), Lotto (Portrait of a Man), and Poussin (Bacchus). The gallery contains some outstanding Flemish works, notably Rubens's Bacchanal at Andros and Worship of Venus, and Jan Brueghel's Jesus Preaching from the Boat.
The most important room in the museum has one whole wall featuring the works of Rembrandt -- Portrait of an Old Man, Portrait of an Old Woman, and Kitchen Maid (one of the most famous works in Stockholm). In yet another room is Watteau's Lesson in Love, and another salon is noted for its select Venetian works by Guardi and Canaletto, as well as English portraits by Gainsborough and Reynolds.
Modern works on display include Manet's Parisienne; Degas's dancers; Rodin's nude male (Copper Age) and his bust of Victor Hugo; van Gogh's Light Movements in Green; landscapes by Cézanne, Gauguin, and Pissarro; and paintings by Renoir, notably La Grenouillère.
- © Frommer's 2013
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- Very Highly Recommended 2010