Swedish icons 19: Nils Dardel

Nils von Dardel was born in 1888 in Bettna, Södermannland. He is considered one of Sweden’s most important post impressionist artists and his painting ‘Vattenfall’ is the most expensive modernistic Swedish painting ever to be sold at auction.

Born into a wealthy, cultural elite, Nils Dardel was able to spend his life as a nomad. On his travels around Europe, USA, Peru, Mexico, Asia, he painted people from varying backgrounds and all types of situations. He lived a self-destructive hedonistic lifestyle, which is apparent in several of his works , especially those from his pre-war burlesque Paris era.

His paintings are often very colourful and depict eccentricity and ambiguous sexuality. One of his famous paintings is ‘The Dying Dandy’ which today hangs in Stockholm’s Modern Museum, and is perhaps one of the most recognisable pieces of art from Sweden. Some of his other paintings are today on display around Sweden as well as in Paris, Oslo and Hamburg.

For 12 years, Nils Dardel was married to painter and author Thora Dardel although, given his hectic and bohemian lifestyle, he had affairs with both men and women. Together, they had one child – Ingrid – also herself an artist. She, in turn, became mother to two contemporary and acclaimed artists Henry Unger and Nils Ekwall.

Nils Dardel died of a heart attack in 1953 in the artist hotel The Beaux Arts on 44th Street in New York. He is buried on the island of Ekerö outside Stockholm.

Discovering a Swedish corpse 

This summer, I visited the town of Varberg and its museum where I saw a very old, very famous and historically significant corpse – the Bocksten man. This man was found well-preserved in a peat bog in the 1930’s and he dates from around 1350 making him one of the oldest, best preserved findings of this type in the world. 

A weird thing about Mr Bocksten is that his clothes were miraculously in tact and he has a full head if hair. It’s a rather creepy site to see his flowing blond locks on top of his skull. 

  
Lots of theories abound regarding him. Was he murdered? It seems so. Was he an envoy to the pope? Maybe. A tax collector? Likely. Was he a vampire? Possibly. The final theory is backed up by the fact that the body was discovered with poles staked through it so that he would not rise again after death. 

700 years after his death, a team of experts reconstructed the corpse’s face and gave the Bocksten man an eery appearance. When you stand in front of the cabinet containing this reconstruction, he stares right back at you – his eyes full of history and woe. 

  
I remember at school learning about the similar, but even older, Tollund Man  in Denmark and other corpse findings in peat bogs in England and Ireland. I don’t recall learning about the Bocksten Man however, which is strange considering how well preserved and how important the finding was. 

I’m so glad I got the chance to discover it now, and learn about another dimension if Swedish history and culture. 

Stockholm A-Z: Vasa

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It’s amazing that a country like Sweden, known for its technological success and innovative thinking, is also proud owner of one of history’s most epic fails. The Vasa ship, built in the 1700’s was supposed to be the grandest, most fear-instilling vessel of its time. It included an unprecedented 64 canons and was reflective of the great warrior king Gustav Vasa.

The problem is the ship never made it to battle. In fact, it didn’t even make it out of the harbour. The Vasa ship sank on its maiden voyage in 1628 right to the bottom of the Baltic Sea. However, because of the brackish nature of the water, the Vasa didn’t rot and in the 1980’s was able to be miraculously salvaged – a case of achievement winning over failure. Today, the boat is housed in the stunning Vasa Museum on Djurgården. If you only see one museum in Stockholm, this is the one to see.

You don’t have to be a lover of maritime history to enjoy it. Just reflect over how the people of Stockholm, centuries later, overcame defeat and humiliation and restored their pride. If nothing else, the Vasa Museum is a celebration of modern innovation and tenacity as much as it medieval delusions of grandeur.