fredag 18 mars 2011

Carl Hårleman – människan och verket ("Carl Hårleman – the man and his work")

Carl Hårleman is undoubtedly a giant in Sweden's art and architectural history.

The son of a landscape architect, he trained to be an architect under the tutelage of Nicodemus Tessin Jr., one of Sweden's great Baroque architects. Hårleman spent 1721-1725 in Paris, improving his craft, and then went to Italy to to study church architecture. Coming home, Tessin Jr. had died, and his son Carl Gustaf had taken over as the country's Head Architect or Superintendent. Hårleman was still a young man, not even 30 years old, but he had the finest architectural education of any Swede, so he got the job to finish the job of building the Swedish royal palace in Stockholm. Tessin Jr. had drawn up the plans, but they had to be implemented, and there was also lots of work to be done on the interior decorating.

Tessin Jr. had planned a Baroque palace, but the fashionable style in France was now the Rococo, and that was Hårleman's style. Nevertheless, he stayed faithful to Tessin Jr's plans for the exterior, and created some very pleasant and enjoyable Rococo interiors – not as scrumptious and expensive as e.g. Versailles, but very tastefully and nicely done. Of course, to get it done, he needed expertise not available in Sweden, so he had to go back to France to hire competent artists of all sorts. They would then teach a new generation of Swedish artists and artisans, setting the stage for some very nice work in the decades that followed.

Hårleman succeeded Tessin as Superintendent, and would mold the Swedish tastes in architecture and interior decorating for a century through lots of hard work, administrative skill, and design talent. (Some of his drawings in ink and wash are reproduced in the book, and man, could he ever draw.) He also designed a number of palaces and villas, both new ones and renovation objects. When he reshaped or rebuilt, he always respected what had been there before, and kept his designs congenial with that.

Carl Hårleman was simply one of the most important Swedes of the 1700s, and even though he died only 52 years old, we still have a number of beautiful buildings to thank him for – and he didn't just do architecture and interior decorations, he also did landscape architecture, designed sumptuous fêtes and sober burial ceremonies, and created an education system to ensure that Sweden would continue to have a cadre of skilled artists and artisans to take on the work of designing, building and decorating top class royal palaces and administrative buildings when he was gone. A pretty darn impressive life, and a book worth reading.

I'll close with a couple of examples of his designing and drawing skills, no less impressive than the man himself:

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