Monday, 17 August 2009
What to see: Fossum Manor, Skien
The county of Telemark boasts two of Norway’s most important Empire style buildings. The wealthy merchant and politician Niels Aall had Ulefos Manor built in 1800-1807, and in 1811-1818 an even grander manor house was built for his first cousin Severin Løvenskiold at Fossum in Gjerpen (now part of Skien). At 2,418 square metres it is today the second largest private home in Norway, second only to Fritzøehus Manor outside Larvik with its 4,510 square metres. It was said that Løvenskiold by building such a grand manor hoped that Fossum, like nearby Jarlsberg, would be elevated to comital status, but before the house was finished Norway had become independent from Denmark with a constitution which forbade the creation of new nobility.
Although he never became a count, Severin Løvenskiold was not just anybody. He was a member of the Constituent Assembly of 1814 and went on to become Prime Minister of Norway in 1828 and Governor-General of Norway in 1841. He was one of King Carl XIV Johan’s most important supporters in Norway and ended up being such a reactionary anti-democrat that the position of Governor-General was left vacant after his resignation a few months before his death in 1856.
At the time Fossum Manor was begun, Norway was still a part of the Danish kingdom. The estate had been bought by Løvenskiold’s grandfather Herman Leopoldus in 1739, the same year he was ennobled with the name Løvenskiold. His son Herman Løvenskiold made it his permanent home in 1759, but it was when his nephew, Severin, took over the estate in 1803 that a new era began. He demolished the old main house and replaced it with a grand new one. The surviving drawing of the new Fossum’s main façade has been attributed to Denmark’s greatest neoclassical architect Christian Frederik Hansen (1756-1845), the architect of buildings such as the second Christiansborg Palace, Christianborg Palace Church and the Cathedral of Copenhagen, or his studio. The rest of the house is the work of Johan Godtfried Boydtler, a master bricklayer and timber man of Dano-German origins.
The estate’s name derives from the waterfall (“foss” in Norwegian) at the entrance to the grounds. From the bridge across the water a long alley of trees leads to the manor house and the main façade’s columned portico. A notable difference from the Royal Palace and the University in Oslo, the two most important neoclassical buildings in the country, is that the portico does not denote the main entrance. It is in fact the garden side, while the main entrance from the courtyard is a relatively simple door, although guarded by two cast-iron lions. The difference is explained by the fact that Fossum, unlike the Palace and the University, is a country house. Similar solutions can be found at Skinnarbøl and Jarlsberg, two others of the four important Empire style manors in Norway.
From the humble entrance there is however an imposing double staircase leading to the first and second floors. The major rooms are all located on the first floor. “The Round Hall” is the ballroom and the name derives not from its shape, which is rectangular, but from the barrel-vaulted ceiling. “The Golden Drawing Room” connects it with “the Small Hall”, which is located behind the portico and is perhaps the best Empire style interior at Fossum. On the walls is a large portrait of King Carl XIV Johan, which was a present to Severin Løvenskiold from the monarch, flanked by portraits of King Oscar I and Queen Josephina as well as Prince Frederik and Princess Louise of the Netherlands, the parents of Queen Lovisa.
Other rooms, such as the Dining Room and the Library, have been changed into other styles at a later date. Like other manors in Norway, Fossum has a “King’s Bedroom”, which was kept ready in case the King should pass by and need a place to spend the night. Among the royals who have stayed at Fossum are King Oscar I, Queen Josephina, Prince Gustaf, Princess Eugénie, Crown Prince Gustaf and Prince Eugen. The last royal to stay there was Crown Prince Olav in 1956, but the present Queen has stopped there on a private visit.
The current owner of Fossum Manor is Severin Løvenskiold’s great-great-great-grandson Herman Løvenskiold, who inherited it from his father Herman Leopold in 2006, although he had been in charge of the running of the estate for many years before his father’s death at 91. He lives with his wife, Borghild Anker Rasch from Rød Manor in Halden, in one of the wings, while his mother Catharina, née Countess De la Gardie from Borrestad Manor in Sweden, has her home in the other wing. Their son, Leopold Axel, is now in charge of the running of the estate and lives in the nearby Fossum Villa with his family.
Fossum Manor has been a listed building since 1923 and in 2007 it was, with 25 other listed buildings in Skien, exempted from property tax by the city council as some sort of compensation for that the Løvenskiold family themselves pay for the upkeep of this historic building. A thorough restoration was carried out in 1971-1981.