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The sugar mill that became a groundbreaking art gallery

Our history of Palace begins with the story of Pontus and Göthilda Fürstenberg. Within this building, they created their welcoming home and an art gallery, where radical artists from the late 19th century were represented. In Sweden, the Fürstenberg Palace in Gothenburg became a focal point for the Swedish art scene and a place where the modern and innovative arts were on show. Visiting artists included Anders Zorn, Bruno Liljefors, Carl Larsson, Ernst Josephson, Hugo Birger and Georg and Hanna Pauli, among others. Many worked throughout Europe (and Zorn also in America), but they always had a home to return to with the Fürstenbergs.

The gallery at the top of the palace was opened to the public in 1885. There, the Fürstenbergs filled the walls and ceiling with works that have become iconic symbols of the bold and internationally-influenced art of the previous century.

However, the history of the building at Södra Hamngatan 2 dates further back than that. Specifically, it dates back to 1749, when virtually the entire population of the city lived within the ramparts and the finest trading houses were to be found on what are now Norra Hamngatan and Södra Hamngatan. Merchant Niclas Jacobsson then applied for permission to build a sugar refinery. He promised that the city would see a beautiful building designed by court architect Carl Hårleman, who had been responsible for the restoration of the Royal Palace in Stockholm, among other projects. The application was approved and sugar production began a few years later.

The sugar mill was built in the middle of the water on piles, gravel and sand between Södra Hamngatan and Norra Hamngatan. The exterior of the building was reminiscent of the Swedish East India Company’s large building, where Carl Hårleman had also left his mark. However, in the late 18th century, Gothenburg was ravaged by fire and once the fire had died down, only the wine cellar of Jacobsson’s sugar mill remained. The building was eventually rebuilt and was soon ready for use again.

By the 1830s, it had become fashionable to take spring waters, as the people of Gothenburg did at what is now called Brunnsparken (Spring Park). Like many pump houses, it was a classical single-storey building with columns, and an entrance off Södra Hamngatan. The tiny island was covered with vegetation, not unlike the romantic gardens that were so popular at this time. Royalty as well as ordinary residents of Gothenburg took the spring waters, and luminaries such as Swedish writer and Bishop Esaias Tegnér were among the names in the guestbook.

The fashion for taking spring water had all but passed by the mid-1800s. New plans began to be forged for the site and its fantastic location. A governor’s mansion and a new stock exchange building were two of the proposals put forward. The old renovated sugar mill building eventually came to house both residential and business premises for a time. The area between the artificial island and the harbour edge was filled in again so that the island now became an extension of Södra Hamngatan.

 

Pontus Fürstenberg

In 1880, Pontus Fürstenberg took possession of the property when he married Göthilda Magnus, who had inherited the building from her father. The major art era associated with the “Opponents” movement, with Gothenburg at its centre, starts here. Pontus died in 1902, a year after his wife. Their art collection was bequeathed to Gothenburg Museum and the building to the city. The building became the nucleus of the Gothenburg Museum of Art, which opened on Götaplatsen in 1925 and where the art collection later came to be displayed.

The Fürstenberg Palace became the Palace Hotel and Restaurant, which was opened by director Robert Kjellström with a grand banquet in 1907. Since then, Fürstenberg Palace has been called Palace. It has become famous in Gothenburg as a hotel with a magical history, frequented by bohemian artists and royalty, and renowned for fabulous dining experiences. The old guestbooks contain a wealth of information on the guests who have visited Palace: Gustav V, Prince Eugen, Crown Princess Louise, Jussi Björling, Josephine Baker, Ernst Rolf and Maurice Chevalier, to name but a few.

In the late 1960s, Stockholms Enskilda Bank moved into Palace, its offices facing Brunnsparken. Palace was then the subject of a demolition contract! Within ten years, the palace, with all its wonderful traditions, was to be demolished, along with large parts of the neighbouring inner city districts. But just a few years later, the threat of demolition was lifted and Wermlandsbanken moved into the property. They stayed in the building for 20 years. In 1993, following extensive renovations, the premises facing Brunnsparken became a restaurant again.

And now here we are. Another 20 years later, the Fürstenberg Palace and Palace are not only a natural meeting place for residents of Gothenburg and visiting friends, but the artists and the Fürstenbergs have also returned, bringing with them the generosity and passion that was their life’s work.

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