10 Best Works at Nationalmuseum

Explore CFHILL's Senior Specialist Anders Welander's selection


How Did Nationalmuseum Come to Be? It’s the same old story: it happened thanks to fortune, King Gustav III, and his educated mother, Lovisa Ulrika. Both of them were accustomed to being surrounded by fabulous art collections. At the time of the “Theatre King’s” early passing in 1792, the decision was made to turn the royal art collection over to public ownership

This would result in one of the first public art museums in Europe. In 1866, the collections were relocated to the new building, which has recently been refurbished and reopened. There is much to learn about Swedish art history here, for any visitor. CFHILL’s Anders Welander has prepared a little curriculum that you might want to follow when you make your next visit!


1.  Johan Tobias Sergel, Cupid and Psyche, 1787, Carrara marble

This supremely talented, German-born artist had just been granted his agrémentby the Académie Royale in Paris when he was summoned back to Sweden by Gustav III. Sergel was a world-class artist, who could very well have pursued a successful career in Paris, or worked for Catherine the Great of Russia. Cupid and Psycheis one of his most famous masterpieces. In it, he displayed his absolute mastery of the neo-classicist aesthetic of the time. His obsession went beyond the perfection of the body; he also sought a perfection of the whole. Note the powerful spiral composition, which gives the piece a sense of motion and life!

2. Hanna Pauli, Breakfast Time, 1887

You can’t quite make out what exactly is being served, but all the same, the spread looks incredibly tasty and inviting. This is a true gem of a painting, by a pioneering female artist. She made this sun-drenched work just after finishing her studies in Paris. She lived with her husband, George Pauli, in a house they had built in Nacka, Villa Pauli, where they each had a studio. It was a very rare thing for a female artist to have a studio of her own in those days. This painting is many people’s favourite out of the entire collection.


3. Bruno Liljefors, Jays, 1886

“Foxes” is the first word that comes to mind whenever Bruno Liljefors’s name is mentioned. However, in all honesty, I don’t think he actually succeeded in very many of his attempts at painting foxes. He is always at his best when he manages to combine an eye for the psychology of the animal with a Nipponizing gaze. Everything appears with an elevated sense of reality. A magical moment that no Instagram snap could ever rival. This is such a beautiful portrayal of autumn!

4. Carl Fredrik Hill, The Tree and the River III, France, 1877

Naturally, Nationalmuseum’s collection offers a generous selection of the stars who followed the international trend and went to Paris towards the end of the 19th century. It was where everything was happening. How did that come about? It was probably a combination of the emerging, leisure-hungry bourgeois class, the large number of public meeting places where people could spend time, and the catalytic blend of different kinds of people, from different classes and backgrounds, that were all massing together in one city. And while you don’t exactly see crowds of people milling around in Hill’s poetic paintings, his landscapes definitely teem with life.


5. Judith Leyster, Boy Playing the Flute, 1630

One of the finest treasures of the collection! For many years, this adorable piece was accredited to the great Dutch artist Frans Hals, but thanks to the star in the signature, the painting could finally be assigned to its rightful creator. Leyster used to sign her works with a little star. Ley-ster(re)actually means leading star. This era in Dutch painting is referred to as the Golden Age, and it’s easy to see why here.

6. Anders Zorn, Omnibus I, 1890

If you ask me, this is one of Zorn’s most interesting paintings. It’s nice to see him abandon his usual rural romanticism for a change, and enter fully into modernity. Some people are sitting on a bus. The elegant lady, the worker in his cap, and the well-dressed gentleman are sitting together, but all gazing inwards, separated from one another by a vast expanse of attention[JS1] . Just like we still do today. The modern city provided new meeting spaces for people from different classes. This painting is quite similar to Degas’ famous work The Absinthe Drinker, which was produced a few years earlier.


7. Jean Siméon Chardin, Young Student Drawing

It’s easy to forget that the international section of the collection includes more than Rembrandt’s The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis… like Chardin, for instance! This piece feels uncannily modern, with its unworldly artist, who subsides on nothing but air and genius. The idea of artists as prophetic geniuses who exist outside of society won’t emerge fully for another century, but this remains a compelling self-portrait nonetheless. The piece was once owned by Carl Gustaf Tessin, and measures a mere 18 x 15.5 cm.  

8. Ernst Josephson, Spanish Smiths, 1881

Just like Hanna Pauli (née Hirsch), Josephson had Jewish ancestry. Perhaps his exceptional ability to capture people’s essence stems from his background in a family of thespians. His portraits express a presence so rich you can almost feel their breath and hear their tone of voice. Josephson had travelled to Seville in the company of Anders Zorn and others, to experience everyday life in Southern Europe. It’s said that the smiths enjoyed the attention, and asked the visiting artist to portray them standing. I love the way they’re posing!


9. Alf Wallander, Porcelain painted decor in relief. Pale blue and green, with a sea creature attacking a nymph, 1897

This is Art Nouveau at its very best. Form and expression in perfect union. In 1896, Wallander became the first artistic designer employed by Rörstrand, where he worked until 1910, making decorative pieces and dinnerware, including the famous Irisset of 1897.

10.  Alexander Roslin, Zoie Ghika, Moldavian Princess, 1777

Few artists are permitted to reap the rewards of their fame during their lifetimes in the way that Alexander Roslin was. And really, who wouldn’t want to have their portrait done by him? The shine of the eyes, the clothes, the rosy cheeks, the warmth – all of it! Everybody loves The Lady with the Veil. My own heart beats stronger for Moldavian Princess, which Roslin painted in Russia. This young woman isn’t wearing a wig, and she is dressed in traditional garb.