The elegant 18th-century interiors of Gunnebo Slott near Gothenburg, Sweden are an unknown treasure of neoclassicism. Photographer Christopher Flach’s never-before published images show the superb symmetry, grace and harmony of Gunnebo’s interiors.
For many summers I have been traveling to Sweden to visit castles, mansions, palaces and estates and pavilions in the region around Stockholm. No season seems happier and more glorious and than summer in Sweden. It’s brief, and winter comes fast. Long sunny days are spent on the water, sun-bathing on islands in the archipelago, visiting estates, or wandering through the gardens of Stockholm and its lake-filled hinterlands.
I land in Stockholm in mid-August, and head out immediately to visit Haga Pavilion, Drottningholm Palace and its glorious Chinese Pavilion and the manor houses on Skansen.
It’s neoclassicism I come to enjoy—Swedish style.
I wander in a happy, golden daze from the Grand Hotel (where I always stay), to the Royal Palace, then back over the bridge to Lisa Elmquist’s for lunch (smoked salmon), take a wander around Ostermalm. I’ll climb the stairs of the National Museum to see the Rembrandts and Swedish Impressionists, and later meet friends at Wedholm’s Fisk for dinner or Fredsgatan12 for late supper. Every view is framed by the lakes and waterways of Stockholm. I feel my best.
It’s still sunny at almost 11pm, so after dinner I might take a ferry to Vaxholm in the archipelago for an ice cream, before heading back to the city. Back at the Grand, I make sure, before I turn in, to close my bedroom curtains tight to keep out 2am sunlight.
Next day, I am heading for Drottningholm on the old ferry that leaves from the dock near City Hall. I eat cloudberries and cream as we drift along the lake, and arrive just in time to attend the opera at the Gustavian opera house near the castle.
I take the last ferry back to the Grand, but it is still sunny and golden, so I walk around the deserted city, perhaps stopping at the city’s Gustavian opera house ’back pocket’ bar for a sip of Champagne.
The Swedish interpretation of neoclassicism is a lot less gilded and formal than the French approach. Here in the north, wood was plentiful, and woodcarvers and cabinetmakers did their best to emulate the French taste—and failed wonderfully. These country cousins of Versailles crafted a humbler version of Louis XVI, with less embellishment or four-four. From French drawings, they produced somewhat more pared-down chairs and settees and covered them with hand-woven cottons and printed chintz rather than silks woven in Lyon.
In Gothenburg stands one of Sweden’s less known mansions, on a country estate far from Stockholm and the richer south.
Gunnebo Slott was built at the end of the 18th century as a summer residence for wealthy merchant John Hall. The house was described as "the most beautiful and exquisite wooden building in the kingdom". It is one of Sweden's best examples of neoclassical architecture.
Gunnebo Slott today is a working farm with rare Swedish sheep and fowl, and it has superbly maintained formal gardens. Clipped yews and hand-trimmed hedges give away the French inspiration.
The Swedish name, Gunnebo Slott, is often translated to Gunnebo Castle, though there is nothing fortified about it. Slott in this case should more correctly be portrayed in English as a mansion or an estate, perhaps Gunnebo House, in the English manner.
The name Gunnebo first appeared on maps at the end of the 14th century and in a list of properties owned by the church. At the time the estate was called Gunnebodher or Gunnebodum.
In 1778 Hall purchased more than one hundred acres on which to build a summer villa. Carl Wilhelm Carlberg, the town architect of Gothenburg, was commissioned to plan and design the estate, including the interior decoration, most of the furniture, the landscape, and the surrounding farm buildings and dependencies.
Carlberg, like King Gustav, his court, and many intellectuals and architects of the day, had undertaken an adventurous formal study trip abroad. These Grand Tours were popular in the day in spire of the arduous nature of travel. Carlberg, like the short-lived King Gustav III, was heavily influenced by the prevailing neoclassical ideals and could not wait to incorporate the orderly and elegant architecture and furniture into his work.
Carlberg was also an admirer of Andrea Palladio, whose formal-yet-informal villas in the Italian Veneto around Vicenza and Verona are considered among the most influential architectural models internationally.
Palladio has been loosely interpreted here. It’s Gustav-meets-Palladio build in wood.
After Hall’s death, the house passed through several hands, and over decades it was neglected. It is now in the hands of the local municipality and is superbly maintained. Unlike many historic houses around the world that are owned by public bodies, this one feels alive, as if a family lived there. Fresh flowers from the gardens bloom on tables. Curtains seem to billow in the breeze.
New York photographer Christopher Flach recently spent several glorious summer days photographing at Gunnebo Estate.
“Wandering through the Gunnebo Slott, I fell in love with 18th century light. For me Gunnebo Slott is about summer, and about the Swedish people.
“Gaining permission from the museum director to roam and photograph, was a gift. This is the most beautiful and exquisite wooden building in Sweden.
“As a residence for the wealthy merchant John Hall, the house was filled with Sweden's best examples of neoclassical architecture and furniture as well as statuary, in the manner of Canova.
“I am a great admirer of the Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio.
“Gunnebo Slott was recently renovated, using the original drawings and documentation. It fell into disrepair several times, and was saved by its 20th century preservationists, Baroness Hilda Sparre and her husband Baron Carl Sparre.”
Today Gunnebo Slott is a museum, open for all to enjoy.
Photographs of Gunnebo Slott by Christopher Flach have never been shown or published previously. Flach’s images of Gunnebo Slott offer a privileged tour of the late 18th-century rooms, an ode to neoclassicism in Sweden. All images were photographed by Christopher Flach, who holds the copyright.
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