Swedish icons 17: Rolf de Maré

Rolf de Maré was born 1888 in Stockholm into a wealthy family. He is one of the most important Swedish cultural profiles of the 1900’s, renowned for being an influential collector of art, a dance impresario and the founder of the world’s first museum of dance.

Rolf de Maré had the financial means to fulfill his dream of being a patron of the arts, and as such he could travel all over the world. On his many trips, he bought art directly from the artist. Among his collection, he purchased works from Picasso, Braque and Léger.

In 1920, he started the avant-garde Swedish Ballet in Paris. The Ballet was a creative power that aimed to combine dance, drama, painting, poetry, music, circus, film and pantomime, and attracted talent such as Jean Cocteau.

Rolf de Maré loved living in Paris, by all accounts. Here he could live openly as gay; something that was impossible at that time in close-minded Sweden. He had a series of romantic liaisons, the most notable with the artist Nils Dardel.

In 1933, Maré founded the world’s museum and research institute for dance, also in Paris. The museum gathered material and records about dance from all over the world. During this period he became a powerful and celebrated person on the French culture scene – and was responsible for launching the career of the legendary Josephine Baker.

After the Second World War, he attempted to hand part of the material from his dance museum archives to the Paris Opera. They took 6,000 books which are today stored at the Opera’s library. However, they did not want the rest of the material. As a result, information on the Swedish Ballet and some other documentation ended up in Stockholm at the Dance Museum, which he founded in 1953. This material can still be seen today. His modern art collection is on display at Stockholm’s Museum of Modern Art.

Rolf de Maré died of a stroke in Barcelona in 1964 and is buried at Gustaf Vasa church in Stockholm. Next to the Dance Museum is a restaurant called in his honour ‘Bistro Rolf de Maré’. The bistro has French and Swedish classic dishes on the menu. As he was grandson to the incredibly wealthy Wilhemenia von Hallwyl, also a patron and collector of the arts, a beautiful portrait of him hangs in the grandiose Hallwylska House in Stockholm. The painter? His beloved Nils Dardel.

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