Judi Lembke takes us inside a timeless space for art and culture – Millesgården
Just over the Lidingö Bridge north of town, you’ll find one of Stockholm’s finest museums. Located on Herserud Cliff, the outdoor sculpture park and museum Millesgården was famed Swedish sculptor Carl Milles’ final home, which he donated to the Swedish people in service of the world of art that he loved.
I was fortunate enough to tour Millesgården with Museum Director Onita Wass, who was filled with marvellous stories about both Carl Milles and the wonderful gift he bestowed upon his beloved homeland.
“Carl came from a rather traditional family,” Onita told me. “His father was a military man and his mother was a housewife. There was the expectation that Carl would become a lawyer or go into another professional field so when he decided to pursue art there was a fair amount of disappointment on the part of his father.”
That paternal disappointment is part of what drove Carl. He first found success outside of Sweden. Whilst travelling to Chile he stopped in Paris. Instead of continuing his journey he began studying art, eventually working in Rodin’s studio as he slowly grew his reputation as a sculptor. Milles and his wife Olga returned to Sweden in 1906 and bought the property on the cliff, where they built what was to become both his home and his workspace.
For much of the next twenty years he focused his work almost exclusively on Sweden, with his sculptures eventually gracing nearly every decently sized town and city in the country. Five years after he set sail for America – where he was to remain until the 1950s, he turned Millesgården into a foundation and donated it the Swedish people, although he did retain the right to live on the property.
Millesgården is most known for its sculpture gardens, which are spread across various levels and interspersed with fountains, pergolas, hidden sitting areas. To say that this is an oasis of calm and peace is something of an understatement. Here is where you can find a quiet corner to sit and contemplate while the wind rustles the trees and shrubbery and the fountains gently bubble in the background. The sculptures themselves are scattered about, some on proud display and others cropping up when you least expect it. The view across the water to Stockholm enhances the sense of time and place.
For me, though, the real fascination is inside the house. As you wander through the rooms there is a real sense that this was someone’s home. The parquet floors are worn smooth with age and there are innumerable personal touches – the piano, the private photos, the workspace that feels like he’s only just put down his tools – that make you feel like you’re taking a peak behind the curtain.
There are plenty of sculptures inside the house as well – of particular interest is his workspace, where massive casts still remain – but of even more interest is Carl’s massive collection of art and curios from around the world.
“Carl travelled a lot and he collected things everywhere he went,” Onita explained to me. “He lived for art and that is reflected in his collections, which range from Chinese vases to simple pencil drawings. The sheer volume and diversity of his collections show just how dedicated he was to art.”
One room in particular reflects Carl’s love of collecting as well as his keen interest in the world at large. It’s more of a hall and was built, like the entire house, to the specifications of him and his wife. This hall was inspired by Pompeii, which you can see in the flooring, the intricate work around the windows, and the myriad objet d’art on display.
What isn’t normally open to the public is the upstairs of the house. As I followed Onita up the narrow wooden stairs they creaked with each step. Milles’ former bedroom, found just at the top of the stairs, is now used as an office. Luckily a sitting room of sorts remains as he left it: the books are on the shelves, the furniture is as it was, and the view from the windows reminds one that when Milles bought this property Lidingö was not the thriving community it is today. Back then there was no bridge and other than a scattering of summer cottages the island was fairly unpopulated. Somehow Millesgården retains this slight sense of isolation, which is comforting rather than off-putting.
Other things to discover at Millesgården include the art gallery, which was built about a decade ago with financing coming from the sale of two impressionist paintings from Milles’ collection. There the foundation holds roughly four exhibits a year, which can be anything from the Josef Frank exhibition to one about Man Ray.
There’s also a wonderful restaurant, which serves fairly traditional Swedish fare and has seating both inside and on a grand terrace overlooking the gardens. Additionally there is a butcher and deli, where you can find wild produce and wonderful home baked goods.
As I left Millesgården, my stomach filled with salmon and my mind brimming with impressions, I knew I’d be back.