Monday, July 23, 2012

A Peek at the Usually Hard to See House by The Gustavian Designer Masreliez in Gamla Stan, Stockholm

Louis Masreliez was born and formally christened Adrien Louis Masreliez (1748 – 19 March 1810). He was a Swedish painter and interior designer. Masreliez was born in Paris and came to Sweden in 1753. He began his education at Ritakademien (Drawing Academy) at the age of 10. Since the academy did not teach painting, he studied at Lorens Gottman's workshop. In 1769 he was given a study grant which he used to travel to Paris and Bologna to study. He left Bologna in 1773 to live in Paris for eight years. He then returned to Sweden in 1782 to become ledamot of the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts. The following year he was made a professor of art history. He became rector of the Academy in 1802 and director in 1805. His work is represented in the Swedish National Museum of Fine Arts, the Gothenburg Museum of Art, and the Royal Palace. Among his works are: The interior of Gustav III's Pavilion at Haga Park in Solna; The interior of Tullgarn Palace; The altar paintings of Maria Magdalena church in Stockholm, Romfartuna church near Västerås in Västmanland and the S. Stefano in Alexandria.  The perfectly restored suite of rooms in Salviigränd in the Old Town in Stockholm, created for the tradesman and bachelor Wilhelm Schwardz in 1795 is the subject of this blog essay. It is a little known Neoclassical masterpiece. 

This is a portrait of Louis Masreliez below. 

He was one of the artists in the employ of the discerning, elegant and mercurial Gustav III who very actively nurtured, via his patronage and self assured good informed taste, the development of a viably Swedish variant of the then prevailing Neoclassical Style which we regularly label the Louis XVI style. It is certainly to the credit of Gustav III that he allowed Masreliez and other artists of caliber and outstanding talent to do so much work for the Swedish court and that he similarly encouraged the Swedish nobility to patronize artists of high category and foster a very sophisticated legacy of fine houses, interiors with some of the finest furniture, gilt bronzes, painted wood paneling, glass and textiles being produced in late 18th Century Europe.  This is King Gustav III by Alexandre Roslin in his coronation robes.

The Swedish Gustavian Style is often noted for its attenuated (some say a bit glacial) treatment of Pompeian inspired decoration. It's not as animated as the decor one sees in France in the 1780's and 1790's. But it's still quite beautifully quietly refined and very chic! As noted above, among the other accomplishments of Masreliez is the utterly poetic and sublime Pavilion of Gustav III at Haga Park. We shall have occasion to visit Gustav III's pavilion in the coming weeks...

But today I thought it would be interesting to take a glimpse of this apartment in Gamla Stan ( the old historic quarter) of Stockholm designed by Masreliez for a private client Wilhelm Schvardz, a Stockholm merchant. The work was finished in 1795.  Today the apartment is privately owned by a Swedish insurance company who makes it nearly hopelessly inaccessible. When in Stockholm, I was kindly given a nice colour booklet produced by the insurance company and lavishly illustrated.The photos below are scanned from this booklet.

Below are two views of the drawing room... Note the prominence of grisaille decoration on a gold ground on the wall panels. This is similar to the decorative treatments of the Mirrored Hall at Haga Pavilion.

Below are two views of the dining room... Note the lovely painted ceiling and the typically stylish Swedish chandelier.

The illustration below depict another smaller sitting room with its monumental porcelain stove that, along with the stunning chandelier, is a staple in classic Gustavian interiors.

The last illustration depicts the designer's treatment of his client's private intimate bedroom.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


Years ago, in the early 1990's, in preparation for a lecture I was going to present on the visit of Grand Duke Paul of Russia to Paris and Versailles in 1782,  I was conducting research in the University of Miami Library and looking up an article about diplomatic gifts of Louis XVI. As anyone looking up articles in old periodicals knows, they are usually hardbound by year. This instance it was the volume containing Connaissance des Arts for 1962 which was the magazine that concerned me at the time. During the 1950's and 60's this magazine really published some outstanding scholarly articles about various aspects of the French 18th Century. Understandably,  I was interested in leafing through each month while having a chance to enjoy the volume. In the August edition of that year, the noted writer Eveline Schlumberger (who constantly wrote in this magazine about the additions to The Chateau de Groussay for her great friend and patron Charles de Beistegui) penned a riveting article which I never forgot about the looming menace to a not particularly significant or distinctive old residential building by the impending construction of a highway in the outer areas of Paris in Courbevoie where this building was situated. She asserted how the uninspiring exterior of the building belied the ravishing beauty of two sumptuous rooms entirely decorated in the finest surviving Louis XVI period stucco which had amazingly survived (what was then) just less than two centuries of revolutions, wars and other menaces such as redevelopment. This feature was indeed the cover story and a view of the rooms was on the cover seen below.

When the article was published, the rooms were part of an apartment occupied by the family of a certain Dr Henri de Frémont whose family had owned the apartment since the mid 19th Century. As it turns out, this enticing decorative ensemble of stucco was apparently commissioned from the building's architect and 18th Century owner, a certain Boiston, by Adrien-Louis de Bonnières, Duc de Guines. The Duc de Guines was a great friend of the new King's fashionable consort, Marie Antoinette. Among his other professional positions, such as Ambassador to Berlin (where he annoyed Frederick the Great who insisted on his eventual recall)  and later to the Court of Saint James (where he really got into hot water and had to undergo a trial after charges of being involved in smuggling!), and being a Chevalier of the Ordre de Saint Esprit, he was also named to the Council of War and in 1787 made Governor of Artois. This is his portrait by the father of Madame Vigée Lebrun, Louis Vigée, which is dated earlier in the 1760's before the Duc de Guines became so corpulent that his valet would have to ask him every morning if he was planning to stand all day or sit at some point in the course of the day as Guines would wear one pair of breeches for standing and one with a looser fit for sitting!

It would seem he also took his duties as an officer of the Guards Suisses seriously enough to make the effort to rent these lodgings at convenient proximity to the Swiss Guards barracks near Malmaison (which of course, at that time had not the historic association it would soon have under the Consulat and the Empire) and which is seen below.

As noted, the architect of the apartment building near the Suisses barracks was a certain Boiston from whom Guines rented this apartment where he clearly felt the need to decorate to make it nice enough to perhaps receive friends from The French Court and perhaps even the queen herself.  As carved, gilded and painted boiseries would have been costly for a rented apartment (though there is ample proof that many renters did commission lovely boiseries in 18th Century Paris in rented homes), Guines settled for more cost effective stucco. The effect is absolutely breathtakingly beautiful! Dr Frémont discussed a restoration he had ordered in which the original vibrant 18th Century colours were revealed after a cleaning in which the entire painted stucco decoration was restored to life with shimmering blues that recall Wedgwood Jasperware and Tuscan columns of painted finishes that resemble Sienna marble!  Below are another view as seen on the cover and some other monochrome photos that appeared in the 1962 article. 

Below the following 2 images from the article show opposite views of the main reception room or drawing room.

The article also published other monochrome photos showing the extravagant and contagiously festive sculptural decoration along the cornices with allegories celebrating the resident's various accomplishments and artistic interests. Guines may have been a questionable success as a diplomat or warrior. But he was a fine flute player. This was confirmed by Mozart who even dedicated a Concerto for Flute and Harp (K299) to the Duc de Guines! 

 The other smaller room with the vibrant blue and with relief decoration also served as the entrance foyer.

Happily, Connaissance des Arts also published this colour photo of a detail of the smaller room seen below. 

Curiously, I recently found this photo dating from the same year in which the room served as a location and backdrop for a fashion shoot. Le Duc de Guines would certainly have been very pleased to see this! 

Now the mystery begins... Where are these splendid panels today? What was the eventual fate of this very intriguing Louis XVI period interior with a connexion to such an important personage in the court of the ill fated Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette? A Parisian friend assures me this area of the outer parts of Paris is now densely populated by newer developments and that the fate of the building was probably not a happy one... But what of the interiors? Did a generous patron, collector or a rich American step up to the plate and rescue these two rooms? Does anyone know if they are preserved in a great private home or a museum anywhere?  I have naturally tried to do a Google search and nothing comes up of any substance. Any information is most welcome!