Treasures from the Nationalmuseum of Sweden: The Collections of Count Tessin Back

At the Morgan, for the first time in North America, some sixty drawings and fourteen Rococo oils from the collections of Count Carl Gustaf Tessin (1696-1770) are on view. While Sweden’s Nationalmuseum, which was formed from Tessin’s collections, is closed for renovation (set to reopen in 2018), many of its works are on loan. Although it includes no Swedish work, the Morgan exhibition highlights pieces by artists such as Raphael, Rembrandt, Bucher, Rubens, and Watteau. This past winter, before travelling to the Morgan, a larger selection (some 120 works) from Tessin’s collections was exhibited at the Louvre.

A Francophile Swedish courtier, diplomat, politician, artist, writer, and major art collector (think dilettante), Tessin collected contemporary oils and Italian, German, Dutch, and Flemish drawings. Although most of the drawings that are on display predate the Restoration, there are several by seventeenth- and eighteenth-century artists like Boucher, Chardin, Oudry, and Watteau.

The oils on view all date from the eighteenth century. Tessin commissioned three of these paintings including Portrait of Count Carl Gustaf Tessin (1740) by Jacques-André-Joseph Aved (1702-1766), a major French Rococo painter. The work proclaims Tessin’s patronage of the arts. In his elegant silk dressing gown, surrounded by his books and collections, Tessin sits holding a drawing. Also commissioned was The Dachshund Pehr with Dead Game and Rifle (1740) by Jean-Baptiste Oudry (1686-1755), which depicts Tessin’s beloved hunting dog (a gift from the King of Sweden) and his favourite rifle.

The most celebrated of the commissioned works is the mythological Triumph of Venus (1740), by François Boucher (1703-1770), perhaps the most famous Rococo artist of the eighteenth century. Still in its gorgeous original frame, this playful, large-scale painting features a red-cheeked, nude Venus resting on silks, surrounded by dolphins, cherubim, and interlocking groups of naked attendants. The painting is artificial, decorative, airy, and asymmetrical. (Did I say these paintings are Rococo?) The swirling movement of the sea blends with the sky, as one naiad lies on her back, her eyes closed in ecstasy. The delicate and elegant are juxtaposed with the carnal, as her finger suggestively strokes the neck of the dove that sits on her crotch.  Come to Mama!

Treasures from the Nationalmuseum of Sweden was at The Morgan Library and Museum, New York, from 3rd February to 14th May 2017.