Sunday, May 16, 2021

A Tale of Two Cities . . . I mean museums

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  Royal extravagance and luxury versus war and poverty and the life of the common folk.  Royal intrigue and political alliances versus sweet, simple family life.

Before I tell you about the two very different museums we visited in the past two weeks, I want to tell you of a continuing miracle that has been happening in our mission.  Our mission president and his wife, President & Syster Davis, have been repeatedly exposed to Covid.  Not that they may have been exposed.  They have definitely been exposed many times.  But every time they have been tested, they have not had Covid.  And they have not received their vaccines yet either.  A total miracle!!

Now for our visit to two very different museums.  First, the museum/home in Sundborn of Swedish artist, Carl Larsson (pronounced lar-soan' -- long "o" -- with the accent on the second syllable).  When Swedish people say it, it sounds like one word -- carlarsoan'.  Sometimes we haven't been sure what they said.  Carl Larsson is famous for the watercolor paintings of his home and family.  His paintings give us a peek at what life was like in the late 1800's and early 1900's here in Sweden.

The second museum is Livrustkammeren or Royal Armory, attached to the king's palace in Gamla Stan.  It's the oldest museum in Sweden, having been established by King Gustav in 1628 after he decided to preserve the clothing he had worn in battle in Poland.  It was fascinating, with royal clothing, armour, and royal carriages.  A museum not to be missed.  And free during the pandemic. What a contrast between the extravagance of royalty and the simplicity of peasant life.

Following are pictures from the Carl Larsson-Gården.

Carl Larsson was born in 1853 in the slums of Gamla Stan, the old town of Stockholm. He had a very unhappy childhood with an abusive father.  Because of that, he was determined to give his wife, Karin (pronounced Kah-rin), and 8 children a very happy life here at his home and farm called Lilla Hyttnäs (The Little Hut on a Point).

The Larssons moved to this farm in 1888.  The yellow building is a small dam and hydro-electric facility, giving the Larsson family electricity earlier than most.

Our guide, Luisa, is welcoming us to Carl & Karin Larsson's home.  The home is as it was in about 1928 when Karin died.  Originally it was a 4-room house, but Carl and Karin added on in a higgledy-piggledy way, and people at the time were shocked.  Luisa is wearing a dress designed by Karin Larsson, who didn't like the tight, corseted, fashions of the day.  She preferred comfort, and designed and sewed her own clothing.

No photos allowed inside, of course.  This is a view of the outside.  Carl and Karin didn't care what other people thought; they built the house the way they wanted to.  Neighbors thought it was an eyesore!

This painting of 4 of the Larsson children is outside the front door.  On walls, doors, and cabinets all through the house are paintings of Carl's children and wife.

Since we weren't allowed to take pictures inside the house, I bought a book about it.  You can see the bold colors and designs.  Karin was an artist also, but she preferred designing textiles and furniture.  All of the fabric and much of the furniture were designed by her.  On the door you can see Carl's painting of one of their daughters.

Other views of the exterior of the home from the book.  Many houses in this area are painted red due to the abundance of the red-colored by-products of the near-by copper mine.  Hope to visit the mine sometime before we leave.

Another interior picture showing Carl's decorative paintings on the wall and cabinet, and Karin's cushions on the chairs.  The banner above the cabinet translates to "Love each other, children, for love is everything." 

Carl Larsson was a "farmer" in the sense that he owned a farm.  But he had employees to do the work while he did the painting.  LeRon and I love this 1905 painting called Harvesting the Rye.  Torries grew dryland rye for many years.  Thankfully, they harvested with a combine!  Of his farm, Carl said, "I will paint the whole farm, everything there is to see.  I will paint when we sow and harvest, and when we pick applies in the autumn, and when we plough and harrow, and when we dig ditches in the spring."  And of course he was using the "royal we," since he didn't do the work himself . . . but maybe he wished he could have.  LeRon thinks everyone should want to be a farmer!

Most of Carl Larsson's paintings were of his home, his wife and his children. He later said that these paintings were "the most immediate and lasting part of my life's work. . . . these pictures are of course a very genuine expression of my personality, of my deepest feelings, of all my limitless love for my wife and children."
The family picking apples.  Most of Carl's paintings were sketched in pencil and then with India ink and then filled in with watercolor.

Christmas celebrations were, and still are, very big in Sweden.  One of Carl and Karin's daughters is decorating the tree with candles.  My mother's family put real candles on the Christmas tree.  Mom said they would only light them on Christmas Eve for fear of setting the tree, and the house, on fire.
Karin on the Shore, 1908.  Karin loved loose dresses and big aprons.  A small lake was on the property, and when we visited, there were people boating on the lake, just like in this painting.  Lots of beautiful foliage and flower gardens.
Love this domestic scene.  Carl and Karin's daughters, Suzanne and Kersti, are churning butter.  The kitchen window is open with the curtains flapping in the breeze.  Food waiting to be cooked on the coal stove in copper pots.  Dishes freshly washed in the wash tub.  The red chair with the green spice cabinet.  Karin's woven rug.  The cat, looking for a mouse.  The clock says it's 5:15. Would that be a.m. or p.m.? An amazing look at the life of common people so long ago.

Swedish people love their "fika"(pronounced fee'-kah), which is coffee and pastries any time of the day.  For us members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, fika is not coffee, but hot chocolate and pastries!  People often invite others to join them for fika.  Swedes like to use these tiny trays for fika, and many of them have Carl Larsson paintings on them.  I even bought a few myself.  Not sure they will be for fika though.

The Sundborns Kyrka is close to the Carl Larsson home.  It's a wooden church that looks smaller than it actually is.  The adjacent bell tower is also made of wood, and both are painted with the red that is so common here.

All of these churches have beautiful pipe organs.  The pews are painted a gorgeous blue.  We were surprised how many pews there were.  You could probably seat 200 people here.  In non-pandemic times of course.

Carl Larsson painted the interior of the Sundborn church.

The church is on the shore of a lake.  So peaceful.  I've always wished I could be buried in a churchyard or on our farm, but it's not to be in Canada.  My eyes are closed because the sun here in Sweden is so bright.  Not sure why it's any different than at home.  I usually wear sunglasses, and even then it's very bright.

Elder & Syster Wilhite joined us on this expedition.

The church was built in 1755.  Strong door handle!

Carl & Karin Larsson are buried here in this Larsson family plot in the church cemetery.  On the cemented walls are the names of all 8 children.  Baby son Mats died at 2 months; son Ulf died as a teen.  So hard to lose children.

An hour north of Sundborn is the birthplace of the Dala Horse.  We need to go there sometime.  In the meantime, here is a gigantic Dala Horse somewhere between Sundborn and Stockholm.

The Dala Horse has become a symbol of Sweden.  Wooden horses were carved as toys for children from the 1600's.  They became very popular when painters started painting them.  And of course, they painted them in the orangey-red that is so common here.  Because tourists love these horses, they are now painted in many colors, not just red, but always with the bridle and saddle, as above.

Lots of round-abouts in Sweden.  And they all have interesting things in the middle.  On the right is a grain terminal.  That caught LeRon's attention!  The drive from Stockholm to Sundborn was beautiful, with freshly worked fields and winter wheat greening up.  Not so many trees as closer to Stockholm.  A very beautiful 3-hour drive.

Now for the tale of the second museum, Livrustkammeren, or the Royal Armoury.  Sweden, like many countries, was involved in war after war.  The knights in armour look romantic, but life was brutal.  Imagine wearing such heavy armour and fighting hand to hand with swords.  Not fun.  While soldiers were fighting and the common folk were starving, royalty was enjoying a pretty extravagant life.
Could you even walk wearing that heavy armour?

And the poor horses.  Could they even hold their heads up?  But I guess the point was protection, not comfort.

Not all royalty were enjoying the good life while the soldiers fought.  Some fought also.  This is the actual horse that King Gustavus Adolphus rode when he was killed in the Thirty Years' War in 1632.  It looks in pretty good condition for being almost 400 years old and having gone through a war.

Horse and soldier ready to fight for king and country.  Or maybe this is King Gustav.  I can't remember.

More royal apparel.

Why would a queen need armour?  Did women fight in wars?  Maybe they did.  At least Joan of Arc did.  She was pretty amazing.  Her story is very inspiring.  See a great video about her at or at

Sofia of Denmark was betrothed at the age of 5 to the future king of Sweden, Gustav III (who was also 5 at the time).  It was of course a political alliance.  She wore this dress when she was married in 1766.  This is the back of the dress with its long train.

And this is the front of the dress.  Looks elegant but very uncomfortable.  Gustav's wedding clothing is also displayed. 

Intricate wood carvings on each end of the royal cradle which has been in use since 1650.  It is still used today when a royal baby is born.

Sorry about the reflection so you can't really see the ornate baby cradle.  Oh well.  On the wall are pictures of the current king and queen of Sweden.

Clothing from a by-gone day.

The royal children played with these royal toys.

LeRon made a wooden rocking horse when our first child, Michael was born.  The kids played on that rocking horse for many years.  And many royal children played with this royal rocking horse.

The royal coaches were beyond description!  Very different from the carriages in the Remington Carriage Center in Cardston, Alberta, Canada.  But those carriages are pretty cool too.  They are just not royal.

Yes, I was there.  I'm usually taking pictures.

A one-person carriage.

This royal coach carried Sophia of Denmark to her wedding with Gustav of Sweden.

Love the detail.  The three crowns is the national emblem of Sweden.  But at different times, it has symbolized different things.  At one point it symbolized the union of the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Denmark, and Norway. 

Ornate bridles

One of the carriages was pulled by 6 horses.  I guess you would call it 6-horse power!

These carriages look beautiful but the cars we ride in today are much more comfortable!

Queen Sofia and King Gustav rode in this carriage to their coronation in 1772.

Close-up of the coronation carriage.

Elaborate and very intricate wood carvings.

Detail of the wood carvings.  Click to enlarge.

Two children's sleighs.  LeRon and I remember our neighbor, John Kast, driving into our yard with his horse-drawn sleigh one winter day.  Nothing quite like gliding smoothly over the crunchy snow with the sounds of horse hooves and jingle bells.

Another intricately carved sleigh.

King Gustav III still overlooks his palace.

So there you have it.  A Tale of Two Museums.  Both interesting in their own ways.  We liked the glitter and beauty of the royal carriages, but we actually prefer the simple life as portrayed in Carl Larsson's paintings.  We sing with John Denver, "Thank goodness I'm a country boy!"

Following is a quick link to the video about Joan of Arc:


  1. Wow, fascinating! We saw a pretty carriage in our recent trip to that frontier village, but upon closer inspection we realized it was a hearse. 😆 I’m with you, give me the country love. I love the Carl Larsson paintings.