Stockholm’s renovated National Museum

Stockholm’s National Gallery re-opened in October after a huge renovation supervised by Swedish architects, Gert Wingard and Erik Wikerstal; the gallery had been closed to the public since 2013 and the cost of the refurb was 1.2 billion Swedish crowns around £100 million sterling. I was fond of the old gallery but it was definitely starting to look a little dated and tired around the edges and I was curious to see what had been  done.   I was in Stockholm last month for a weekend visit and popped in.

Wow, what a breath of fresh air!    The sweeping staircase, with the Carl Larsson memorials, leading to the entrance hall, looks much the same but fresher but otherwise what a change.  The ground floor has evolved with the introduction of a new lecture hall and a sculpture garden reminiscent of that at the Louvre (albeit a little smaller); light pours in through the new ceiling comprised of small glass pyramids.

Upstairs, the walls in many of the exhibition rooms are brightly painted with vibrant blues, yellows and reds but this works well set against the elegant whitish greys of the marble columns and the vaulted ceilings.  The hanging is chronological but also thematic- so you have Swedish National Romantic painters in area and Napoleonic art in another.  Furniture and objets d’art art effectively mixed with paintings.

The first floor exhibition space

After or before your museum visit you can relax an exceptionally beautifully designed restaurant with sleek wooden dining tables, exquisite parquet floors and fabulous lighting (10 designers designed glass globes for a splendid chandelier)- a great place to have an open sandwich and a coffee in the morning or a glass of wine in the evening.  

The Atelje restuarant

The museum can now exhibit 5,200 objects around three times as many as they could before the renovation.  It is lighter, more spacious and airy, beautifully designed and is a museum of the twenty first century to compete on a world scale.  I will be back and soon.

Carl Larsson ‘Ett Hem’ watercolours exhibited with furniture of the same period.
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Aster

Last week I had dinner at Aster, a Nordic restaurant in Victoria that I have been meaning to try ever since it opened, coming up for 2 years ago now. The chef is Finnish and I had been informed the food was Finnish but the menu felt more Scandinavian/Baltic with a modern European twist than pure Finnish.

The rye bread which we were served shortly after our arrival was delicious- warm and with salty butter, I could easily have eaten the whole bowl. It was also available for sale in their delicatessen, adjoining the restaurant, although, being evening, this was closed when we were there. My cured salmon was not the best I have eaten but tasty enough and the seabream I had to follow was perfectly cooked with a delicious fennel and dill salad. My Finnish mother loved her North Atlantic fish pie.

The restaurant felt a little bit cold and lacking in atmosphere and slightly corporate hotel like to me, although to be fair we were there on a Monday evening which is their quietest day of the week. The staff on the other hand were exceptionally friendly and also appeared genuinely interested in the restaurant and the food that they were serving (which doesn’t always happen). One of the waiters showed me round and I very much liked the 2 private rooms with their sleek wooden panelling and low ambient lighting.

I wouldn’t make a journey back especially but certainly if I am in the area (and I am hoping to see hit musical, Hamilton) just round the corner, I would pop in for a drink or dinner.

Aster restaurant, Victoria

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Strindberg at Aquavit

Headed to Aquavit last night, the recently opened, very on the pulse Scandinavian restaurant in St.James’s.  I was there for a private viewing of highlights from Scandinavian auction house, Bukowski’s spring sale.  The piece de resistance was a Strindberg storm at sea scene-  absolutely stunning and extremely atmospheric.  It was oil painted on zinc, Strindberg was a bit of an alchemist and experimented with all sorts of mediums.  The estimate was 10 to 12 million Swedish crowns (roughly a million pounds). The painting was the perfect size to fit in one of the catalogue bags they were giving away at the end of the evening; I thought about popping it in a bag…

The viewing was held in the ‘Stockholm room’ of Aquavit.  The wallpaper was Josef Frank and there was a Svenskt Tenn cabinet full of Scandinavian books and modern design vases.  I noticed lots more Svenskt Tenn downstairs in the main restaurant in addition to Georg Jensen silver and a huge textile by Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson (he who did the incredible ‘Weather Project’ installation at Tate Modern several years ago).  I will have to return to try the food (the original  Aquavit in New York has 2 Michelin stars).  The canapés were in any case delicious particularly the mini Toast Skagens. I’ll be back!

Aquavit restaurant, London

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Artipelag

A beautiful day out on the Stockholm Archipelego today after a few rather chilly ones.  It has not been a great summer in Sweden and I have managed one ocean dip (with a wet suit); I usually have a daily swim when I am out here.  It’s a great time for picking chanterelle mushrooms though, thanks to the damp.  And the wild strawberries are utterly delicious and sweet.

The weather has allowed for a trip to Artipelag, the creation of Baby Björn inventor, Björn Jacobsson, and a short drive from Stockholm.  This impressive  and harmonious building built into the rocks, in a stunning setting amongst pinewoods with spectacular views of the sea, is a great cultural hub with design and art exhibitions, restaurants and entertainment.  The current exhibition ‘Land meets Water’ on nature photography is worth seeing if in the area, and the building is definitely worth a visit.

artipelag_stockholm_17,1

Artipelag

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Beautiful Skagen

I have just returned from a couple of days in Skagen, located at the end of the Jutland Peninsula in Denmark, it is the highest point of continental Europe.  I went with a group of friends and we walked along the beach at Grenen (the twig), the junction where the two seas, Skagerrak and Kattegat, meet.  I ran out into the sea at the tip so that that for a few moments I could be the person standing at the northern most point of Continental Europe- childish but fun!

Grenen

Grenen

Skagen is beautiful- most famous for its stunning Nordic light, at the end of the nineteenth century it became a gathering point for artists (the well known Skagen painters).  The artists congregated at Brøndums hotel, then run by the parents of the painter Anna Ancher. We stayed at Brøndums- the old hotel is simple and charming but has no ensuite bathrooms.  Degn Brøndum thought that running water and hot baths were unnecessary, and said, I quote ‘since the hotel was only 200 metres away from the beach. When swimming in the ocean was good enough for him, then why should it not be for others as well?’

Liking our creature comforts, we stayed in the modern section but had a delicious dinner in the restaurant in the main building- the chefs took their food very seriously, and the local fish was delicious.  My only complaint is that on the evening we arrived c.10.30pm, we asked whether we could have a drink or something to eat.  NOTHING was available not even a cup of tea, which did not feel welcoming.  Scandinavia really need to up their customer service.  We wandered off to find a drink and snack in the nearest pub.  Anyhow back in the nineteenth century, the many artists who came to stay at Brøndums used to give portraits and paintings to Mr and Mrs Brøndum as a means of payment for their stay.  These portraits covered the walls of the oak pannelled dining room.  They have now been moved to the Skagen Museum but copies remain at Brøndums.

The Skagen Museum is a delight-full of serious paintings by Peder Severin Krøyer, Anna and Michael Ancher and Marie Krøyer.  Amongst them was the stunning A summer evening on the South Beach at Skagen by Krøyer depicting his wife, Marie and her friend Anna Ancher, strolling along the beach in elegant white Edwardian dresses.  The undulating curves of the shoreline are a subtle reference to the Art Nouveau fashions of the time and the soft pastel light of the early evening is utterly breathtaking- what a gorgeous painting.

Peder Severin Krøyer, A summer evening on the South Beach at Skagen.

Peder Severin Krøyer, A summer evening on the South Beach at Skagen.

We had a fabulous guide at the museum and I realised how complicated the lives of these Skagen artists was- affairs, madness, envy, unrequited love- it is all there- a little Bloomsbury…. I am going to read a biography about the beautiful, sophisticated but ultimately unhappy Marie, who sounds fascinating.

We hired bikes in Skagen which were perfect for getting around- the cycle paths along the  sea front were gorgeous.  We cycled to the old part of Skagen to the medieval ‘Sand Church’ which started sinking, owing to sanddrifts, in the eighteenth century. We stopped for a delicious lunch at Hyttefadet, run by the Lundum family, who previously owned Lundum’s the best Danish restaurant in London which us Londoners sorely miss!  The Pariserbof, a minced beef served with capers, egg yolk, pickles and beetroot, is to die for.  Sitting in the sunshine drinking coffee and nibbling on homemade Kranserkrage– life doesn’t get much better!

The Sand Church

Hyttefadet restaurant, Jens Bergs Vej 2a, Skagen.

Brøndums hotel, Anchersvej 3, Skagen.

 

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Food scares

Noma, the two Michelin starred restaurant in Copenhagen, voted the world’s best restaurant three years in a row, has been hit with food poisoning. 63 out of 78 customers who ate there over a four day period came down with Roskilde virus causing vomiting and diarrhoea.  It is most unusual for Scandinavians not to be scrupulous about hygiene- perhaps this was just extremely bad luck.  Everyone I know who has dined at Noma describes an exceptional culinary adventure; I have a feeling that Noma will ride this wave…

It has not been a great week for Scandinavian food what with horse meat discovered in Ikea meatballs (no surprises there- nasty processed things, no patch on the real thing), and more worryingly Ikea chocolate almond cake discovered to contain ‘faecal bacteria’.  I think Ikea furniture is fantastic for lots of purposes but on a recent visit to Ikea in North London, I thought all the food on offer in the restaurant was pretty much inedible; not a great advert for Scandi food which can be delicious.

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