In his thesis Per Widén at the University of Gothenburg, examines the arguments that were put forward articulating the need for a national art museum, the benefit that art was considered to have for society, how lobbying was conducted and which individuals were involved.
During the first half of the 19th century large art museums were opened in just about all of Europe’s capital cites, from Rome to London, from St. Petersburg to Paris. In Sweden the question of a National Museum was taken up in Parliament on several occasions from the 1810s but it took until 1845 before a positive decision was taken. During these thirty odd years the debate was advanced by a group of committed individuals who worked tirelessly on the issue. This debate – which represents the start of a Swedish cultural policy – is presented here for the first time.

When the National Museum opened in 1866 it was the culmination of a process that had been underway for over 50 years. The actual building had taken more than 20 years to erect, but the debate on whether Sweden needed a national art museum had started as early as the 1810s. The process – the debate on why a national art gallery was necessary, which individuals were involved and how they went about achieving their goal – is the subject of the thesis.

Central to the study is a group consisting of some thirty individuals who from the 1810s to 1845 tried to stir up the question of a national art museum in the press, Parliament and at the court. The actors involved in the issue were loosely associated with each other through friendship connections and shared experiences of travel, of artistry, and of service at court and as army officers. The most prominent among them were Gustaf AnckarsvÀrd, Lieutenant Colonel and Superintendent of the Board of Public Works and Buildings, Axel Nyström, architect and Secretary of the Academy of Art, and Baron Fredrik Boije af GennÀs, Chamberlain and publicist.

To achieve their goal – the establishment of a National Museum – they employed a multitude of strategies, ranging from writing articles in the press to creating temporary art exhibitions as well as smaller museums where possible. However, the decision to set up a national art museum had to be taken in Parliament and in 1828 the first bill was put forward regarding the building of a National Museum, but it wasn’t until 1845 that the decision was taken to build the museum.

The advocates for an art museum formulated their arguments around three different lines of argumentation: general education, manifestation and usefulness. The education argument primarily concerned the museum as a centre of education and the potential of art to improve people; the manifestation argument was to do with the national honour and the need for Sweden and the royal family to hold its own in relation to the rest of the world. Finally, the usefulness argument concerned the issue of training artists and the hope that a museum would be able to contribute to economic development.

Title of the thesis: From royal art gallery to national museum. Actors, Practices and Arguments within Swedish Art Museum Discourse ca 1814 – 1845.

The thesis can be ordered from bookshops.

For further information, contact Per Widén, mobile tel. +46 (0)706-71 76 74, e-mail: per.widen@idehist.gu.se

Press contact: Barbro Ryder Liljegren
Faculty of Arts, University of Gothenburg
Tel. +46 (0)31-786 48, e-mail barbro.ryder@hum.gu.se