Photographic royal portraits

by Dawid, Bruno Ehrs, Thron Ullberg och Mattias Edwall.

May 2016

In celebration of Carl XVI Gustaf’s 70th birthday, the Friends of Nationalmuseum, Nationalmusei Vänner, has given the Swedish National Portrait Gallery at Gripsholm Castle a gift comprising eight portraits of H. M. the King and members of the royal family. The photographic portraits are by four renowned Swedish photographers: Dawid (Björn Dawidsson), Bruno Ehrs, Thron Ullberg and Mattias Edwall. Despite the fact that several of the portraits are official in nature, they have retained their individuality and each represent tradition as well as renewal.

Dawid (Björn Dawidsson, born 1949) is deemed one of Sweden’s foremost photographers and was one of the first to work with conceptual photography. He made his debut in 1973, but his definitive breakthrough came a decade later with the exhibition Rost (Rust) at the photography museum Fotografiska museet (now an integrated part of Moderna Museet). At the time he demonstrated, as he did later, how the apparently banal in a rusty, bent nail can be transformed into something unique and artistically expressive. Since then in his works Dawid has stretched time-honoured concepts and the limits of what can be seen as photographic art. Given his tendency towards non-figurative art, at times he has been interested in the photogram, a simple technique that Man Ray from the US and Swede Olle Nyman were working with back in the 1920s and 1930s which involves placing objects straight onto the copying paper, which is then lit. Apparently trivial objects emit an enigmatic, almost magical, power.

Although Dawid is mainly associated with a kind of avant-garde and abstract photography, he has also produced many powerful, empathetic and sympathetic portraits. The more unusual among them include his innovative portrait of H. M. the King of Sweden (2005) which was used as the original for a stamp the next year to celebrate the King’s 60th birthday. Despite its contemporary look, here Dawid is returning to the classic portrait of a ruler in profile whose roots go back far into the mists of antiquity.

Bruno Ehrs (born 1953) started his work as a photographer at Stockholm City Museum under the legendary Lennart af Petersens. This gave him a thorough grounding in photographing architecture, a skill he most recently demonstrated in a book on the French château Vaux-le-Vicomte (Flammarion 2015). He has been working freelance since the early 1980s.

Ehrs has worked on his own projects and on commissions for newspapers, magazines, books and advertising. He has had about twenty one-man exhibitions in Sweden and abroad and published a handful of his own books. Works published by Ehrs include Goodwins vackra Stockholm (Our Beautiful Stockholm) (1999), a photographic history. As part of Stockholm’s 750th anniversary, Ehrs produced a series of portraits of famous Stockholm residents, including King Carl XVI Gustaf. This was acquired by the Swedish National Portrait Gallery and was displayed in the exhibition Kungar i svart och vitt (Kings in Black and White) at Gripsholm Castle in celebration of H. M. the King’s 60th birthday. Ehrs continued to be commissioned by the royal family for official portraits and in 2010 created his first original for stamps, depicting the King and Queen of Sweden.

Thron Ullberg (born 1969) is one of Sweden’s leading portrait photographers. He started studying art history but soon switched to photography. Ullberg often works with large format cameras and traditional negatives which he processes digitally, a sign of his love of the craftsmanship of traditional photography. The portraits are deliberately staged, with special illustrative associations, and are theatrical in nature, drawing inspiration from advertising and fashion photography as well as film and video. Ullberg’s portraits include examples of intimacy and distance, up close and personal, and official. His portraits have often come about for a specific context – for the press, particularly for various photo journalism magazines. They may have artistic pretensions but are still characterised by the context for which they were created. The radiance of the portrait is partly due to the familiarity of the face. Indeed, the picture of H. M. the King in the Logård Parterre was taken for an article on his majesty himself.

Mattias Edwall (born 1958) is a still photography and film photographer. As the son of actor Allan Edwall and author Britt Edwall, he came into contact with the world of film early on in life. He started his career as a fashion photographer in New York and one of his early jobs was as an assistant to Annie Leibovitz and Patrick Demarchelier. Here he also gained the opportunity to explore his own personal form of expression. Edwall returned to Sweden in 1986, producing a wealth of advertising films and music videos throughout the following decade.

In recent years Edwall has become particularly known for his photographic book on Cirkus Cirkör, in which he collected a series of expressive and colourful photographs of tightrope walkers, acrobats, fire-eaters and jugglers spanning 17 years in the work Cirkus (2013). Another important genre that Edwall has worked with is portrait photography. Considering his background, actors and artists have long dominated. Edwall works thoroughly and prepares the ground with sketches, gathering ideas for his staged pictures. It is not unusual for him to have his models act as if they were on stage, a method used to good effect in his portrait of H. R. H. Prince Carl Philip.

The photographic portraits are a gift from the Friends of Nationalmuseum, Nationalmusei Vänner. Nationalmuseum has no budget of its own for new acquisitions, but relies on gifting and financial support from private funds and foundations to enhance its collections of fine art and craft.

Inventory number: NMGrh 5105-5112

Dawid, Carl XVI Gustaf, 2005.Photo: Dawid.

Dawid, Carl XVI Gustaf, 2005. Photo: Dawid. Larger picture.


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