A Restoration Brings Sweden’s Nationalmuseum Into the 21st Century

STOCKHOLM — When Sweden’s Nationalmuseum opened in 1866 it was one of the most modern museums in Europe. After 150 years, outdated technology and space lost to offices and storage severely limited the potential for the museum to display its world-class collection.

Since 2013, the museum has been closed for a renovation overseen by the Swedish architects Gert Wingard and Erik Wikerstal. It is set to reopen to the public Saturday.

The $132 million overhaul sought to put more of the museum’s collection on display and to match the security, accessibility, fire safety and climate control of a modern institution.

Nearly 50 office spaces, a conservation studio, and more than 3,000 square meters of storage that were carved out of the museum’s interior over the years have been removed. Window coverings have been removed to let sunlight into the museum’s galleries.

“The public spaces in the museum are 30 percent bigger,” said Mr. Wingard in an interview.

The Nationalmuseum can now exhibit 5,200 objects compared with about 1,700 before the renovation, though this is still just 8 percent of the museum’s collection.

Fredrik Eriksson, who oversaw the renovation, said that putting more of the collection on display was a priority for government officials who funded it.

Mr. Eriksson said that making the museum accessible to a wider audience, especially young people, was also a priority, starting with the entrance level. Originally designed to house the library of Sweden’s king — though it was never used for that purpose — the ground floor and its two courtyards saw the biggest changes, said Mr. Wingard, one of the architects.

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The courtyards have been raised, and the connecting middle space lowered to create a uniform limestone floor.

The southern courtyard, formerly a loud space with poor acoustics, used to house a restaurant. This has been transformed into an airy sculpture court flooded with light pouring in through a new ceiling of small glass pyramids that deflect noise toward walls finished with sound-absorbing material.

The northern courtyard used to encase a giant “house inside a house,” erected in the 1960s for storage, office space and an auditorium, Mr. Wingard said. That iss gone, and the courtyard now doubles as a lecture hall and transit hall with elevators to move people and works of art.

Also on this floor, overlooking the palace and water, a new restaurant has replaced the conservation studio, which has been moved to another location. “This is the finest room in the entire museum,” Mr. Wingard said.

The entrance level will be open to the public free of charge. “I imagine this space could become a social hub for cultural people in Stockholm. That’s what we hope for, at least,” Mr. Wingard said.

With the storage building in the courtyard and other offices removed, guests can now move uninhibited through the galleries around the perimeter of the museum as they did in the 19th century, Mr. Eriksson said.

Whereas before paintings could only be exhibited on the museum’s top floor, new climate control and ventilation systems make it possible to display art on any level in the building, Mr. Wingard said.

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The museum’s collections comprise some 700,000 objects that include paintings, sculpture, drawings spanning the late Middle Ages up to the beginning of the 20th century. The collection of applied art and design features objects from the 16th century to the present day.

Now that the windows have been fitted with special protective glass, the window coverings that went up in the 1930s are gone, letting natural light into the building and onto the collection, Mr. Eriksson said.

A more vivid color scheme — pink, yellow and blue — though “slightly unusual for a Nordic context,” aims to keep people moving through the rooms, Mr. Wingard said.

Though it took decades to realize, the idea to design a building to house the collections of King Gustav III was first hatched in 1792. The Prussian architect Friedrich August Stüler, who also designed the Neues Museum in Berlin, was commissioned to design the exterior and general layout. The Swedish architect Fredrik Scholander was responsible for executing the project. It took 22 years to complete.

“Stüler died a year before the inauguration,” Mr. Wingard said, adding that after the renovation and the removal of the “intrusions” that were introduced over the past century his vision has been restored. “Stüler is back in town,” he said.

The opening exhibits include the first John Singer Sargent exhibition in the Nordic region and “Design Stories,” a view of the current design landscape in Sweden, told through the stories and objects of 10 prominent designers, who all happen to be women.

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