Gustavian History

The Swedish Gustavian Provincial style is distinctive in its clean, hand-carved lines and cool color palette of blues, grays, and weathered whites. King Gustav himself imported these influences from other parts of Europe, such as the Louis XVI styles seen in France and the Neo-Classical styles seen in Italy during this period.

At the time of Gustav’s reign (from 1772-1792), the average manor house in Sweden could not afford the gilded estate furniture found within the more wealthy homes of the European royalty. Therefore, local craftsman recreated these costly designs from materials and methods more readily available to them.

Techniques such as faux marbled surfaces, using Swedish “massive pine” instead of mahogany, and painted murals on the walls in place of wallpaper, were used to achieve the same stylistic effects.

Though the Gustavian style was initially for the royal environs of the 18th century, its popularity has continued to grow over the years and, in fact, continues to inspire designers to this day. In 1771, the future Gustav III returned to his native Sweden from the French court of Versailles to ascend the throne as king after his father’s sudden death.

The young monarch had been profoundly inspired by French Neoclassical architecture and decorative arts. Later trips to France and Italy gave further impetus to Gustav’s passion for the classical. During his reign (1772-1792), Sweden rose to a level of architectural and cultural sophistication never known before. The king transformed this once removed European country into the “Paris of the North,” setting a standard of style for most levels of Swedish society that continued well into the 19th century.

Early Gustavian decoration was clearly inspired by the French Neo-classical movement but the late Gustavian style was more closely identified with Italy after engravings inspired by the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum began to circulate in Sweden following the return of Swedish court architects and artisans such as Rehn, Adelcrantz and the Masreliez brothers.

Following these foreign impulses the Swedes created a more restrained or austere style of decoration more suitable for Sweden than the over embellished Baroque and Rococo styles. The Gustavian furniture style began in the last quarter of the 1700s under King Gustav III of Sweden who came to the throne in 1772. It was a reaction against the more florid stylings of the earlier rococo style and was born out out of Gustav III’s extensive travels to france and attendance at the court of Louis XVI in Versailles in the earlier 1700s. Under Gustav III’s patronage, Sweden began to develop a strong neo classical style concentrating on symmetry, straight lines columns and Greco-Roman motifs. It was initially heavily influenced by the sumptuous Louis XVI furniture and design that Gustav had seen in France, but soon developed into a very Swedish vision of design which sets its apart from the French pieces that inspired the genre.

The Gustavian style we are familiar with tends towards the distressed Gustavian grey and off white of many modern reproductions. Although the grey colour scheme would have been usual in private guest chambers, servants quarters and in private family rooms, Gustavian furniture in the salon, ballroom, and other main entertaining rooms would have been made of glorious rich polished and inlaid woods or sumptuous giltwood, upholstered in fabulous damask silks and surrounded by trompe l’oiel walls and silk wallpapers with dramatic parque flooring.

In middle class families these would have been the prize family possessions and in the aristocracy was an important way to set your status and impress fellow courtiers, officials and the Royal Family. Although drawing heavily on france, Swedish gustavian design also stole ideas on chair design from England as you can see in the 5 typical Gustavian chair designs which include oval back,straight back,shield back,bellman and others.