Monday, 14 September 2009

What to see: Stjernsund Palace, Askersund

Stjernsund Palace, a few kilometres south of the small town Askersund in the Swedish province of Nerike, is mostly associated with the brief tenure of Prince Gustaf, but its history goes further back.
There has been a building on the spot since 1637, when Count Johan Gabrielsson Oxenstierna built a palace which later passed to his widow’s second husband’s son Gustav Soop. From Soop it passed again to his widow’s second husband’s relatives, the Dohna family, who in 1785 sold it to the wealthy landowner Olof Burén (later ennobled as Burenstam).
The new owner did away with the old palace and commissioned the architect Carl Fredrik Sundvall (1754-1831) to build him a new, modern one. The new palace was built between 1798 and 1808 and counts as one of the great works of Swedish neoclassicism. It is a simple, but imposing rectangular building, stripped of almost all external ornamentation except the imposing staircase and its portico of four Ionic columns carrying an entablature inscribed with the year of its completion. The palace’s location is wonderful – it sits on a hilltop with an elevated terrace in four levels rising from the water which surrounds it on three sides. This is where the lake Alsen meets the huge lake Vättern.
Following the death of Olof Burenstam in 1821, his daughter Eva Fredrika Hagelstam two years later sold Stjernsund to King Carl XIV Johan, who would stay there when travelling between his two capitals Stockholm and Christiania (now Oslo). Upon his death it was inherited by his only son, King Oscar I, whose second son, Prince Gustaf, came to like it very much.
In 1848 a thorough redecoration for Prince Gustaf began, but it was only in 1851 that he bought it from his father. Sadly, the prince did not have the chance to spend much time there. He only came there a few times, never staying for more than a week, before his death at 25 in 1852.
Stjernsund was then inherited by his parents, who in 1856 sold it to their youngest son, Prince August. This rather dim-witted prince soon tired of it and after four years he sold it to the landowner Knut Cassel, whose son Albert inherited it in 1895. His widow Augusta in 1948 sold the land and the forest to the University of Uppsala, but retained the palace and the park until her death in 1951. She then left it to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which opened it to the public as a museum.
The Dining Room, seen in the fifth picture, is one of the few rooms which retain Sundvall’s original décor, although the furniture and chandeliers are of a younger date. The furniture in the Drawing Room (sixth photo) is a mix of neo-Rococo and Gustavian (roughly Swedish louis-seize) pieces. The murals, showing Italian landscapes, were done by the painter F. Hagedorn for Prince Gustaf in 1848.
The next room, in photo 7, is the Ante-room, decorated in a mix of neo-Gothic and neo-Renaissance. This room shows clearly what damage light exposure can do to textiles. The furniture coverings are now in a golden tone, but were originally a brownish purple, while the walls used to be yellow. A reproduction, leaning against the sofa, shows the original colours of the faded Aubusson carpet. Above the sofa are a portrait of Countess Ulrika Dohna, a former lady of the manor, and a landscape painted by King Carl XV in 1865.
Stjernsund Palace is open for guided tours in the summer and next summer there will be an exhibition relating to Carl XIV Johan to celebrate the 200th anniversary of his arrival in Sweden.

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