Tuesday, 28 July 2009
What to see: Ulefos Manor, Ulefoss
Ulefos Manor in the county of Telemark ranks among the most important Empire style buildings in Norway – the others being the Royal Palace and the old University in Oslo and possibly Fossum Manor near Skien.
In 1775 the property was bought by Nicolai Benjamin Aall (who belonged to a Danish family which had migrated to Norway through Britain) together with the rich landowning brothers Bernt, Jess and Peder Anker. Aall earned a fortune through timber trade and in 1782 he bought out the Ankers. It was his son, Niels Aall (1769-1854), who decided to build a stately home at Ulefoss. Work began in 1800, was concluded seven years later and cost an equivalent of nearly 14 million NOK in today’s money worth. A bust of Niels Aall now stands in front of the building (photo 1).
The identity of the architect is not fully clear. In the first book published on Ulefos (in 1940) Wilhelm Swensen named Jørgen Henrik Rawert (1751-1823) as the architect who made the final drawings after Aall himself and his friend Christian Collett (1771-1833) had made preliminary sketches. But in his recent book on Ulefos, Jo. Sellæg argues that Collett was most likely the actual architect, with Rawert just being consulted or perhaps making some changes or corrections to the design.
Situated on a hill above the Telemark Canal and surmounted by a cupola, the inspiration from Andrea Palladio’s La Rotonda just outside Vicenza is quite obvious. Niels Aall had travelled in England and among the works of English Palladianism Chiswick House (by Lord Burlington, begun around 1725) in London has been mentioned as a possible influence.
The most important room is the Garden Hall, which has been called “the most beautiful room in Norway” by the art historian Carsten Hopstock – who also considers Ulefos and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello to be the two most beautiful buildings in the world. A picture of the Garden Hall can be seen here (external link). The chairs and sofas were bought from London in 1805, but were badly damaged in a great fire at Ulefos in 1961. The new covers come from France and are, surprisingly for this house, decorated with the Napoleonic bees.
The wall paintings are done by the Swedish artist and officer Count Axel Otto von Mörner, who sat at Ulefos as a prisoner of war in 1808-1809 after having been captured at the Battle of Toverud. He later returned on behalf of King Carl XIII to try and convince Niels Aall of the advantages of a union between Sweden and Norway, but Aall refused to listen to such schemes.
Norway was at the time a part of the Danish Kingdom, but when the country achieved independence in 1814 Niels Aall was appointed minister of trade by King Christian Frederik, while both his brothers (Jacob and Jørgen) were members of the Constitutional Assembly. Later that year Niels Aall was sent on an ambassadorial mission to London to secure British recognition for Norway. He did not succeed, but following the short war between Sweden and Norway that summer, Aall and another minister, Jonas Collett, negotiated a treaty (the Convention of Moss) with the Swedes whereby Sweden and Norway in November 1814 did after all form a personal union.
There is a so-called “King’s Bedroom” next to the Garden Hall – like many great manors Ulefos kept such a room ready if the King should pass by. Both King Haakon VII and King Olav V have slept there and among other notable visitors are Prince Eugen and his second cousin the Prince Imperial, who visited together in 1878 and left signed photographs.
Even though Niels Aall had been firmly opposed to a union with Sweden and refused to continue as a minister after the union had been agreed upon, his descendants came to serve the Swedish-Norwegian royal family. His son Hans Aall became a member of King Carl XIV Johan’s court and among his duties was translating Norwegian newspapers into French for the French-born King.
In 1903 Hans Aall’s grandson, Cato Aall, the then lord of the manor, was appointed “kammerherre” (chamberlain) at the Norwegian court by King Oscar II. His chamberlain’s uniform and key (fifth photo) are still exhibited in another building at the manor, together with the letter of appointment. When the union was unilaterally dissolved by Norway in 1905, Cato Aall was one of the few Norwegian courtiers who stayed loyal to Oscar II – he did not wish to serve another king and therefore resigned as chamberlain.
In 1943 Cato Aall and his wife Eugenie drew up a will whereby they made Ulefos Manor into a foundation in order to preserve it for the future. In 1989 their daughter-in-law Karen Aall opened the house for guided tours, even though she continued to live there until shortly before her death at the age of 96 in November 2007. With her two sisters she had herself donated their ancestral home, Bogstad Manor in Oslo, to a foundation and she used to quote her mother that “Bogstad does not belong to us, it is just ours on loan”, saying that the same applied to Ulefos.