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The Fürstenberg Gallery

“Freedom! Let everyone paint what they like! Portraits, everyday life, landscapes. The world is not standing still – go forth, and the good always triumphs sooner or later.​Narrow-mindedness and despondency are the best allies of out-of-date conservatism.””

So wrote Pontus Fürstenberg in a letter to Carl Larsson on 2 April 1902. That was towards the end of Pontus’ life – he would pass away eight days later. He ultimately wanted to strike a blow for the ability of contemporary art to defy convention and plunge into a new century.

At the top of Fürstenberg Palace was Sweden’s first private art gallery open to the public. The gallery was completed in 1885 and filled with art from the era’s greatest contemporary artists. Anders Zorn, Bruno Liljefors, Carl Larsson, Ernst Josephson are just some of the famous artists who were represented, artists still associated with a golden age of Swedish art history.

The 223 red frames that now adorn the gallery walls symbolise the 223 artworks that once hung here and which were bequeathed to Gothenburg Museum on Pontus Fürstenberg’s death in 1902. Overlooking Brunnsparken and the statue of Johanna, which was partly financed by Fürstenberg, this is still a magnificent place dedicated to beauty, fellowship and celebration. History has been written here, and we look forward to even more history and memories being created and shared here.

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Sculptor Per Hasselberg was commissioned to decorate the art gallery with sculpted ceiling murals. Being a modern man, Pontus Fürstenberg wanted them to depict the technological and scientific achievements of the time: electricity, telephony, dynamite, magnetism, steam power and photography. While Hasselberg was responsible for the sculptural design, his artist colleagues were responsible for the paintings on the cartouche in the stucco. Countless people were involved in the visual creation of the gallery: Per Hasselberg, Carl Larsson, Georg Pauli and Hugo Salmson, among others.

An eyewitness at the opening of the gallery reported: “... Now I stood there in this beautiful, magnificent yet not overpowering, rich but not brightly or highly decorated art gallery, which is the realisation of the owner’s dream from many years back.”

If the walls of Fürstenberg Palace could talk, we would probably learn a few things about Pontus, Göthilda and their artist friends. What jokes amused Ernst Josephson and his wife in early spring 1884? How did Karl Nordström express his grief over the death of his friend Per Hasselberg? What did Pontus say in his speech to Göthilda at her 50th birthday party? One thing is clear – they often enjoyed themselves. Ernst Josephson wrote to Hasselberg: “It is wonderful up there, you know, and Pontus’ laughter muscles, exercised with their hocus pocus fun, are healthier than usual.”

Richard Bergh became furious over the art collection’s planned move from Fürstenberg Palace. To say nothing of the artist Karl Nordström, who did not mince his words: “O, sancta simplicitas. Oh, stupidity, you are great in the North! Damn all you Gothenburg philistines and may the new donated orchestra blow fanfares on your departure!” The art collection is still at the Gothenburg Museum of Art, but the atmosphere and magic the Fürstenbergs and the artists left behind in the house has been returned to the city of Gothenburg and its inhabitants. And that’s probably something that neither Richard Bergh nor Karl Nordström would object to.

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