Wednesday, 4 August 2010

New books: Prince Eugen in Copenhagen

Prins Eugen och Svenska Gustafskyrkan i Köpenhamn (“Prince Eugen and the Swedish Gustaf Church in Copenhagen”) is the title of a small book (95 pages) by Cecilia Lengefeld published last year. It might seem an odd choice of topic for a book, as Prince Eugen is not generally someone one associates with the Swedish church in Copenhagen. This perception is confirmed by the book, which says he is known to have visited the church on one single occasion (in May 1922).
The author weaves her story around two little-known paintings. The first is Prince Eugen’s painting of the vicarage in Örberga, which hangs in the Gustaf Church. The church was dedicated in 1911 and Lengefeld shows that there had been plans for Prince Eugen to paint the altar piece, but that those plans were scrapped because he wanted to paint only a rising sun, which was seen as not sufficiently religious for a church (but was later accepted for the new church in Kiruna). It was only 25 years later, in 1936, that Prince Eugen presented his painting of the vicarage in Örberga, where he had a summer house, to the Gustaf Church.
The other “forgotten” painting is “Among Artists”, by Viggo Johansen, a now mostly forgotten painter who was among Prince Eugen’s close friends – his wife Martha was an untiring letter-writer and nearly 300 letters from her hand are preserved in the archives at Waldemarsudde.
Viggo Johansen’s painting depicts a dinner held in Prince Eugen’s honour during a visit to Copenhagen in 1901. The painting shows the Prince in the company of the host and hostess and several leading Danish artists (two of whom were actually not present). Lengefeld charts the story of the long process which led to Johansen completing the painting, which was bought by the National Museum in Stockholm but quite soon put into storage. In a rather interesting way the author also sees this artwork in contrast with P. S. Krøyer’s more famous painting of a gathering of artists at Skagen.
While the chapter on the Prince and the church is quite thin, the chapter on Johansen’s painting is of interest as the author also looks at Prince Eugen’s relations to Denmark in general. She points out the central position the two kingdoms of which he was a prince (Sweden and Norway) hold in his works as well as his well-known associations with artists from these two countries, while his relations to Denmark have been accorded little attention. The Prince never painted any Danish landscape and mostly only passed through Copenhagen on his way to the continent. But Lengefeld points out that he was well-informed about Danish art and exhibitions as well as the attached debates and conflicts. In such a perspective Viggo Johansen’s painting could be seen as a forgotten manifestation of the Prince’s less-known relations to the south-western neighbour, a country whose art the author observes that the Prince discovered in connection with the Stockholm Exhibition in 1897.
The book ends with some pages on Prince Eugen’s niece, Princess Margaretha of Denmark, who unlike her uncle was closely involved with the Swedish Church and supported its work. Lengefeld also looks at the relationship between uncle and niece, but in this I think she does not quite succeed. From the 75 letters from the Princess in Waldemarsudde’s archives (which the author regrets rarely refer to the Gustaf Church, but why would they, given Prince Eugen’s apparent non-existent interest in the church?) she concludes that Princess Margaretha “very much wanted to meet her uncle as often as possible”, but that Prince Eugen avoided her.
It seems Cecilia Lengefeld bases this conclusion on his writing in a letter in 1901 that he hoped to be left alone by “the dear family” when he made a short visit to Denmark (something which Princess Margaretha advised him to tone down when she proof-read the Danish translation of a book based on his correspondence). However, this was written when Princess Margaretha was two years old and he had no close relations in Denmark. Other sources, including family tradition, are able to tell of a warmer relationship between uncle and niece.
The conclusion must be that the parts of the book dealing with Prince Eugen’s relations to Danish art are the most interesting and that the book’s title might as well have been “Prince Eugen and Denmark”.

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