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MUSEUM

Sweden surrenders unique Ottoman art

The Swedish National Museum has lost its appeal to keep a 'unique collection' of Turkish art from the 1700s in Sweden, as a court ruling opened the door for the London-based heir to sell off some 100 Ottoman portraits and landscapes piecemeal.

Sweden surrenders unique Ottoman art
The Swedish National Museum in Stockholm. File photo: Guillaume Baviere/Flikr
The collection was pieced together by two brothers, sent to what was then Constantinople to represent Sweden. It includes portraits from the Ottoman court but also of landscapes, and was kept by the Celsing family in latter years at Biby Manour near Eskilstuna, in central Sweden. 
 
"The collection is unique because it has been kept intact and because these paintings were produced for Westerners, when tradition in what is now Istanbul and some interpretations of Islam forbid the depiction of living things," Swedish art historian Anders Bengtsson at the National Museum (Nationalmuseet) in Stockholm told The Local. 
 
Bengtsson said estimates of the collection's value varied, but the probate valued the artwork to 100 million kronor ($15 million) in total.
 
The National Museum and the National Heritage Board (Riksantikvariatämbetet) both protested, however, that the collection had unique cultural value and should not be allowed to leave Sweden. "The National Museum looks at many applications to take art out of the country every year, and generally we allow it," Bengtsson said. "But those artifacts that we say no to are in general foreign artworks that have been in Sweden a long time and become a part of Sweden's cultural heritage."
 
On October 25th, however, Sweden's Supreme Administrative Court (Högsta förvaltningsdomstolen) stated it would not consider the museum's appeal against a lower court's ruling that allowed the Celsing heir to ship the paintings out of the country. 
 
"We've run out of appeals," Bengtsson said, citing his fear that the collection be auctioned off canvas by canvas. The heir's lawyer in Sweden did not respond to an interview request by The Local. 
 
In the past, the Swedish fideikommis law helped keep a number of significant art collections intact, Bengtsson explained. It allowed certain families to circumnavigate inheritance law – allowing land and possessions to stay with one principal heir rather than be splintered among siblings as normal inheritance law dictates. 
 
Since fideikommis was amended, an appointed heir can only take charge of half of the inheritance. The current heir to the Ottoman art collection, however, has issued what in layman's terms would be IOUs to his siblings and by so doing wields control over the collection's fate.
 
He has signaled his intention to sell the art with the help of auction house Sotheby's in London. 
 
While the National Museum would have considered allowing the collection to leave the country for a foreign public institution, splitting up the collection was problematic, Bengtsson maintained.
 
"With Sotheby's we have no control over where the art goes, but with a public institution we would know that the collection was still available to the public and to researchers," Bengtsson told The Local. "In principle, they can now do what the want with it." 

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MUSEUM

Is the world’s best museum restaurant in Stockholm?

A Stockholm photography museum has been nominated for a travel award thanks to its trendy and eco-friendly restaurant, known for boasting one of the best views of the Swedish capital.

Is the world's best museum restaurant in Stockholm?
Fotografiska's restaurant and bar. Photo: Johan Ståhlberg/Fotografiska

Fotografiska, Stockholm's largest space for contemporary photography, opened in 2010 but has already become one of the city's hottest attractions, riding high on Sweden's creative reputation.

It is now in the running to add another accolade to its belt, as one of three nominees in the 'museum restaurant of the year' category in the international 2016 Leading Culture Destination Awards.

Arguably one of the trendiest galleries in Stockholm, Fotografiska usually showcases four exclusive exhibitions, which are updated every few months. It is housed in a former industrial Art Nouveau style building dating back to 1906 on hipster island Södermalm, with stunning views over central Stockholm.

If you thought that Swedish museum restaurants largely focus on a culinary repertoire of dry cinnamon rolls and burned coffee, think again. At Fotografiska, visitors first choose a vegetable-based dish, then optional meat as a complement, prepared by Swedish celebrity chef Paul Svensson. 

“This nomination is an honour and proof of Fotografiska's ability to initiate as well as continue to operate at the highest quality, to the delight of our guests,” said the gallery's co-founder Jan Broman in a statement.

“We are very proud to have succeeded in fulfilling our mission to become a gathering point for many senses,” he added.

READ ALSO: Sweden's Vasa sails into top museums list


The view of Stockholm's Gamla Stan from Fotografiska. Photo: Ulf Berglund

Calling itself “The Oscars for Museums”, the LCD Awards aim to celebrate travel, lifestyle and cultural innovation by showcasing established and emerging museum destinations worldwide.

The other restaurants nominated in Fotografiska's category are Ammo Restaurant at The Hammer in Los Angeles and Loulou Restaurant at Musée des Arts Decoratifs, Paris.

The winners will be announced at an awards ceremony in London on September 30th.