A hundred years after the Roaring Twenties Nationalmuseum revisited the era in a major exhibition. You could step back in time through a parade of art, applied art, design, fashion, photography and cinema.
The era was known as the Roaring Twenties. The First World War and the influenza pandemic were over. The Wall Street Crash and the ensuing failure of Ivar Kreuger’s financial empire in Sweden had yet to occur. But the 1920s were a decade of contrasts. While some partied like never before, others went hungry, governments faltered, and unemployment soared. Citizens demanded new liberties and rights. The forces of tradition and nationalism were ranged against those of new technology and international modernism. In art, everyday realism and fine craftsmanship competed with post-Cubist modernism and mass manufacturing. The tensions were evident across the artistic spectrum, from fine art and design to cinema, photography and dance.
A century later, in the aftermath of another pandemic, Nationalmuseum was revisiting this era in a major exhibition. You could step back in time through a parade of art, applied art, design, fashion, photography and cinema.
The term Swedish Grace was coined by Philip Morton Shand, a British architectural critic, after he visited the 1930 Stockholm Exhibition and observed that the Swedes had abandoned the national tradition of graceful elegance they had cherished in the 1920s.
Artists of the 1920s drew inspiration from around the world and from many periods in history. Architects, designers and artists borrowed motifs from classical antiquity, ancient Egypt and China. The wider world beckoned, albeit on the white man’s terms, and in 1922 the Swedish government set up an institute of racial biology.
The decade brought great changes, especially for women. In 1921, Swedish women gained the right to take part in democratic elections. Middle-class girls started working as secretaries or shop assistants. They became self-sufficient, cut their hair, wore short skirts, danced to jazz music, cigarette in hand, and went to see Ernst Rolf’s revues. It was the birth of the modern woman.
Paris was like Sweden’s second capital. The Ballets Suédois developed modern dance. Swedish artists such as Gösta Adrian-Nilsson, Otto G Carlsund, Siri Meyer and Vera Nilsson moved to the city. The great Paris Exhibition of 1925 brought an international breakthrough for Swedish design: elegant engraved glassware designed by Edward Hald and Simon Gate for Orrefors, Anna Petrus’ cast iron pieces for Näfveqvarn, Nils Fougstedt’s pewter artefacts for the newly formed Svenskt Tenn company, and Carl Malmsten’s furniture in exclusive wood species.
The exhibition at Nationalmuseum provided a wide-ranging survey of the visual arts in 1920s Sweden. On show were art, design, film and fashion from a period of transition that laid the foundations of modern society.
Curator: Cilla Robach