Blog post

Migrants: portraits of figures who moved to Sweden

Summer exhibition at the Swedish National Portrait Gallery

painting portrait of a young woman, who wears a white cloak / dress with a detailed red collar, her hands are crossed and she holds white gloves
Eva Lena Karlsson (Nationalmuseum Sweden)

At the Swedish National Portrait Gallery (a collection of Nationalmuseum Sweden), each summer a topic is highlighted in a small exhibition. This year, the exhibition is Migrants – showing how individuals born in other countries have contributed to life in Sweden.

In a 2014 exhibition Crossing Borders, people from Sweden who works on an international level were featured. The portraits included were contemporary photographs, shown both at the Swedish National Portrait Gallery and at airports.

Migrants is a kind of sequel to Crossing Borders. The table is turned and instead we focus on people who have moved from other countries to Sweden.

Some have come as a part of their professional career, some for family reasons, some as refugees. This time the chronology starts in the 17th century and continues until the present.

In this blog, I will spotlight three of the older portraits, showing that migration to Sweden has been taking place over several centuries.

David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl

Artists have always been crossing borders to find commissions. David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl was born in Hamburg. His generation lived through the Thirty Years’ War that devastated Europe, but also gave opportunities for those ready to grab them. Ehrenstrahl served as a secretary to the Swedish delegation during the peace negotiations.

colour octagonal-shaped painting, portrait of a middle-aged man who looks at the viewer, his hair is long and he wears a dark coat with light blue collar and white shirt

Thereafter, the artist went to Sweden in the service of one of the commanders-in-chief. He caught the attention of the royal court and became the most important painter here during the second part of the 17th century.

The self-portrait was made late in Ehrenstrahl's life. He looks at us with a very confident air, well earned after a most successful career.

Bonnier brothers

One of the largest media groups in Sweden today is Bonnier.

It started in the 1820s with three brothers – Adolf, Albert and David Felix. The family had their roots in Saxony, then one of the centres of book publishing in Europe. They expanded north, and the oldest brother Adolf was born in Denmark.

colour painting, portrait of a man who wears a dark coat with high collar and white under-shirt

In 1827, Adolf Bonnier moved to Gothenburg, where he opened a bookshop and a lending library. Later, he established his business in Stockholm and the university town Uppsala. The portrait is made by an unknown artist, maybe in Copenhagen since the style is close to the Danish Golden Age in painting.

Maria Ricci

During the 19th century, the dream of Italy lured many artists to the south.

There the artists' model Maria Ricci met the Swedish painter Gustaf Plagemann. They fell in love, but religion was an obstacle. Ricci's Italian Catholic family did not want their daughter betrothed to a Lutheran. The couple had to elope to marry.

painting portrait of a young woman, who wears a white cloak / dress with a detailed red collar, her hands are crossed and she holds white gloves

The portrait was painted in Sweden in the 1850s by Emma Ekwall. Maria Plagemann is depicted sitting in a theatre box – a space in public life which could also be accessed by a respectable woman from the middle classes.

These paintings, together with others of the same topic, are until the end of August shown in Migrants in the Swedish National Portrait Gallery at Gripsholm Castle in Mariefred. If you happen to be around, you are most welcome.