Nordic Summer Evening
“In the North, art is not a product of joy, but of longing”
Who would utter these words on the driving force behind Nordic art, if not one of the leaders of the “Opponents” movement, Richard Bergh? And what picture could better describe the longing so typical of Nordic painting than his “Nordisk sommarkväll”, painted between 1899 and 1900? The painting was the artist’s most famous work. It gained wide international recognition during the 1980s thanks to the “Northern Light” exhibition in America.
“Nordisk sommarkväll” came to be one of the last additions to the Fürstenbergs’ large art collection. Pontus Fürstenberg was enchanted by the picture and did not skimp when it was put up for sale. “4,000 kronor,” suggested Richard Bergh, in a trembling voice. “I would like to pay 6,000 kronor!” exclaimed Pontus and was thus able to end his years of collecting and patronage with a painting that has become a symbol of the light summer evenings in the northern hemisphere.
“Nordisk sommarkväll” is also the inspiration behind one of our beautiful rooms overlooking Brunnsparken. A staging and recreation of a romantic summer night, stylish and with a hint of bittersweet melancholy depicting a century of longing for the Nordic twilight. An excellent room for discussion and philosophising, dreaming and showing off, as well as sharing emotions and memories.
Bergh asked his good friends Prince Eugen and opera singer Karin Pyk to model for “Nordisk sommarkväll”. Bergh made an oil sketch of Pyk in Assisi in Italy, which later the same year he used as the basis for his painting, with the prince modelling for him in Sweden. A turn-of-the-century version of Photoshop, in other words. Although Richard Bergh found inspiration for Swedish nature romanticism during his stays in Italy, it was not the southern European vegetation that impressed the artist. At the sight of Italian pine trees and cypresses in Florence, he reportedly exclaimed: “No, fir and pine, they are of the same wood as my own family – we are brothers.”
The painting was a breakthrough for evocative nature romanticism at the turn of the century that could just as easily be recalled from memory as the moment itself. In a letter from Ekholmsnäs on Lidingö, where the scene in “Nordisk sommarkväll” was painted, Richard Bergh wrote of the memory: “It is also divinely beautiful here – precisely the nature I love and that I inhabited as a child, every hue invokes memories.”
If Pontus Fürstenberg was the generous patron, then Richard Bergh could be described as the encouraging father. On account of his leading position in the “Opponents” movement, he was not only a strong voice in the contemporary art debate, but also a great support for many of his artist colleagues. He spoke of their work with respect and admiration and was particularly supportive of those who faced doubts from the art audience and critics.
A few years after Richard Bergh had sold his painting to Fürstenberg, he humbly stated that the art struggle the “Opponents” had waged had finally gained a foothold in Swedish art history: “an art with its roots in the earth, maybe even, who knows, in people’s hearts.”