NEW YORK—A politician, courtier, diplomat, artist, writer, historian, philosopher, and art collector, the Swedish Count Carl Gustaf Tessin (1695–1770) was multitalented but apparently not skilled in balancing his finances. He could not stop himself from buying works of art. In fact, he had to sell 243 of his collected paintings to King Frederick I and most of his collected drawings to Crown Prince Adolf Frederick. Thanks to Tessin’s weakness, his chosen works form the core of the royal collection of Sweden.
Fast-forward three centuries and we are now lucky enough to have access to these works, on display for the first time in North America at The Morgan Library & Museum. “Treasures from the Nationalmuseum of Sweden: The Collections of Count Tessin” runs through May 14.
François Boucher’s ambitious painting, “The Triumph of Venus” (1740), is the centerpiece of the exhibit, but it’s Tessin’s collection of drawings that will take your breath away. Not only does it include eight drawings spanning Rembrandt’s career, but also drawings by Raphael, Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony Dyck, Filippino Lippi, Jacopo Pontormo, and Jacques Callot, among several other greats.
The paintings are all in their original frames, and the drawings are in incredibly good condition.
A rare watercolor from the Renaissance of a flying sparrow by Giovanni da Udine (1487–1561) looks fresh and contemporary. Its colors are still vibrant as if it was created in the 20th century.
Udine worked in Rafael’s workshop. He specialized in still life decorations and animals. He studied birds so closely that he could paint them from memory. John Marciari, who curated part of the exhibition, said at a preview, “You can see Udine understood perfectly the sense of lift and gliding of birds.” One has to see this watercolor in person to fully appreciate its beauty.
The first known art historian, Giorgio Vasari, wrote in “Lives of the Artist” about how Udine created a book of bird drawings that was used as a studio reference and was a delight to Raphael. So whenever an artist needed to put a bird in a painting, they might have looked at Udine’s book.
Another unusual piece in the exhibition is a silverpoint drawing on pink paper by Domenico Ghirlandaio. He depicted an elderly man affected by rhinophyma—a skin disorder which accounts for his bulbous nose. The elegant frame for the portrait was drawn when the sheet was mounted in Vasari’s famous collection of drawings, the “Libro de’ Disegni.”
Tessin was “a man with a distinct taste,” Marciari said. In this show of treasures from Sweden, one can see the taste of one man; one can see real sophistication at work. This is a rare opportunity, he believes, to see such exquisite works of such excellent condition and of such provenance.
“Cospetto! Che bella cosa!” My, what a beautiful thing: Boucher’s “Triumph of Venus” in the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm by Colin B. Bailey
It is generally acknowledged that Boucher’s “Triumph of Venus,” painted in the summer of 1740 for Count Carl Gustaf Tessin, is the artist’s greatest mythological painting. Brilliant and ambitious in conception and organization, its complex interlocking figures modeled with supreme assurance, this large-scale cabinet picture constitutes Boucher’s distinguishing achievement.
Colin B. Bailey, director of the Morgan Library & Museum, will trace Boucher’s process of creating his masterpiece and will consider some of the textual and pictorial sources which may have inspired the painter. He will also focus on Boucher’s relationship with his urbane patron Tessin, their shared interest in rococo ornamentation, and their passion for conchology—the collecting and display of shells.
Wednesday, March 1, 6:30 p.m.
Tickets: $15; $10 for members; free for students with valid ID.
Three Centuries of Swedish Music
Per Tengstrand, piano
Pianist Per Tengstrand performs Swedish music from the 18th through the 21st centuries, intertwined with more known composers whose music inspired the Swedish works. This concert coincides with the exhibition Treasures from the Nationalmuseum of Sweden: The Collections of Count Tessin and is co- presented with the American-Scandinavian Foundation/Scandinavia House.
Thursday, March 16, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $25 for general audience; $20 for Morgan and the American-Scandinavian Foundation members.
Join us for an evening celebration! Flugelhorn player Oskar Stenmark will perform Swedish jazz and folk music with Billy Test on piano in Gilbert Court. Enjoy a prix-fixe Swedish tasting plate and old fashioned glögg in the Morgan Café, and curatorial gallery talks at 6 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. at the exhibition Treasures from the Nationalmuseum of Sweden.
Friday, March 31, 6:00 p.m.–8:30 p.m. No tickets or reservations required. Food and drink available for purchase.
Tickets: Free with Museum admission 6 p.m.–7 p.m. and free 7 p.m.–8:30 p.m.
Something Old and Something New: Count Tessin and His Collections
Jennifer Tonkovich, the Eugene and Clare Thaw Curator of Drawings and Prints
John Marciari, Charles W. Engelhard, curator and department head for Drawings and Prints
Friday, March 31, 6 p.m. & 7:15 p.m.
Tickets: Free with museum admission; no tickets or reservations necessary.
Sketching in the Gallery
Susan Stillman, Artist and Parsons The New School for Design faculty member
Spend two hours sketching and find inspiration from the masterpieces featured in Treasures from the Nationalmuseum of Sweden: The Collections of Count Tessin. Professional artists and educators will be available to assist you. Open to artists of all levels.
Saturday, April 29, 11 a.m.–1 p.m.
Tickets: Free with museum admission.