It was the opening of the Swedish Church’s Christmas Fair on Wednesday night. This is the start of the Christmas season for me, and I really enjoyed wandering around with a glass of warm glögg, chatting to familiar faces and picking up some Advent candles, Advent calendars and quite a few items of Swedish Christmas food. Everything is beautifully displayed and the sales ladies wear the pretty traditional costumes from different regions in Sweden. There are gorgeous hand-knitted items and beautiful woven textiles.
Fancy a tomte?
I went back again yesterday to meet some friends for lunch and have an open sandwich and a saffron bun and it was packed. I imagine it will be even more packed at the weekend but there is a very warm, happy atmosphere and it is a great spot for Christmas gifts and decorations. There are also lots of chidren’s books by Swedish favourite, Elsa Beskow- the illustrations are wonderful.
Crisp bread and ginger snaps
The Swedish Church Christmas Fair is open from 11am-7pm on Saturday and from 12-5pm on Sunday
Went to the Danish Embassy in London for a talk on Scandinavian design combined with a viewing of highlights of Danish auction house, Rasmussen‘s autumn sale. The talk was mainly about chairs (this may sound weird but the Danes are famous for their beautiful furniture design and Danish mid twentieth century furniture is now highly collectable); it is fascinating how the politics of the twentieth century influenced art- Sweden who had a Socialist government from the 1930s right up until 1976 were producing industrial produced furniture for the masses, Denmark by contrast were creating exquisite hand crafted chairs that were expensive but made to last. Finland, independent from Russia since 1917, were creating wonderful free-flowing curved designs in their furniture (think of Alvaro Aalto).
Rasmussen had a few items of furniture and several paintings on display including quite a few abstract oil paintings by artists belonging to the Danish CoBrA movement founded after World War II. I however, leaned towards the earlier works particularly one beautiful eighteenth century drawing. Maybe it will be a Christmas present to myself….
I am just back from a couple of days visiting Copenhagen. The weather was bleak and dreary; the skies the colour of Hammershøi’s paintings but the city was anything but dull. I crammed in lots of art galleries revisiting the enchanting Hirschsprung Collection, crammed with works by the Skagen painters, who, at the close of the nineteenth century, congregated at Skagen, on the tip of Jutland, the northern most point of continental Europe, creating an artists’ colony. The painters went to Skagen for the exceptional light; it is worth visiting the Hirschsprung just to see the works of Peder Severin Krøyer who captures the light and beauty of the Skagen beaches exquisitely.
Peder Severin Krøyer, Boys bathing, sunshine, Skagen.
Another highlight was the David Collection, an elegant eighteenth century townhouse, formally the home of the prolific collector and wealthy and successful lawyer, Christian Ludvig David. He began collecting Danish Golden Age paintings and branched out first to European porcelain and furniture and then Islamic art. The Islamic Collection is world class and contains some exquisite jewellery and porcelain. The highlight for me was a room devoted to the work of Denmarks arguably most famous painter, Vilhelm Hammershøi. I love the calm quiet interiors, the clean lines and the soft grey palette that is so very northern.
I also visited the Renaissance Castle, Rosenborg- beautiful but dark, and I found the collection of Royal treasures slightly overwhelming. The rooms were a chronology of the riches of Danish kings- I realised don’t know my Frederiks and Christians well enough. Someone told me to read Rose Tremain’s novel, Music and Silence, to get a real feeling for the court of Christian IV.
I stayed in a relatively new hotel, 71, Nyhavn: a large warehouse that has been converted to a substantial sized hotel. The service and food were good and the design sleek and minimal although I missed out on a room with a view. The harbour at Nyhavn is very pretty-lined with colourful eighteenth century houses, all now listed buildings. Hans Christian Andersen lived at number 20. The Nyhavn of today, is alive with restaurants, bars and stalls selling souvenirs, food and mulled wine: a delightful place to wander down.
‘Wow did there used to be a public swimming pool here?’ my friend asked. A whiff of chlorine hit us as we entered the spacious white room with stained walls and tiled floors- an abandoned swimming pool stood before us, empty aside from bits of dust and debris. On the wall is a sign relating the history of the pool, beginning with its founding in 1901 thanks to generous funding from a Victorian philanthropist, through to its closing during Thatcher’s time and ultimately its sale for ‘luxury redevelopment.’ The pool was apparently where David Hockney got the inspiration for his first drawings of swimming pools and it had even featured in a novel. It all sounded fascinating (perhaps a little too fascinating). Indeed it was all fiction. The pool is the creation of Danish/Norwegian art duo, Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, most well known in the UK for their sculpture of the Boy on the Rocking Horse for the forth plinth in Trafalgar Square.
The Whitechapel Pool
Their swimming pool, in common with many exhibits in the exhibition is a social commentary. This is not the glamorous, inviting pool of Hockney’s work but a pool that used to be for the people but has been closed down and privatised. Rising gentrification has led to a loss of public places of enjoyment and indeed general welfare. Lying by the side of the pool is the abandoned carseat of a luxury car (the work is beautifully cast in bronze- it is very tactile and hard to believe that it is not covered in soft leather).
Pregnant White Maid, Aluminium, stainless steel, clothes.
Other works in the exhibition include a sculpture of a young boy staring at a gun and even more eerily one of a boy in school uniform sitting crouched by the fireplace; nearby stands a maid hands behind her back and heavily pregnant. The viewer can weave a whole story here. Not all is misery and sadness though-there are touches of humour throughout, notably in the double pair of Levi jeans and Calvin Klein underpants left hurriedly on the floor. There is plenty to explore and think about here and the craftsmanship is highly skilled and beautiful.
This is How we Bite Our Tongue is at Whitechapel Art Gallery until 13th January 2019.