Colour schemes and façade work at Drottningholm and Stockholm palaces
Jan Lisinski presents the colours of the façades of the royal palaces of Drottningholm and of Stockholm. The two palaces were constructed in the seventeenth century, but have undergone successive modifications. The presentation begins with a brief historical overview of the different colours used for the façades, then discusses the way the treatments are to be carried out. In particular, the treatment of stone, plaster, masonry, steel and copper will be examined. The façades of the two palaces are currently being restored, but the solutions for each are quite different. For the Royal Palace of Stockholm, the plaster is simply being cleaned, while at Drottningholm Palace, the plaster will be redone, then painted with lime paint.
Mots-clés :chaux, ciment, corniche, enduit à la chaux, maçonnerie, mastic, moulure, Nicodème Tessin le Jeune, Nicomède Tessin l’Ancien, peinture à l’huile, pilastre, plâtre, rénovation, stuc
Keywords :Carl Hårleman, cement, cornice, lime, lime paste, lime plaster, linseed, Louisa Ulrica von Brandenburg, masonry, moulding, Nicodemus Tessin the Elder, Nicodemus Tessin the Younger, pilaster, plaster, putty, renovation, stonework, stucco
1At present there is façade work in progress at the two biggest royal palaces in Sweden. These are Drottningholm Palace on Lake Mälaren outside Stockholm and the Royal Palace of Stockholm, in the centre of the capital. At both these palaces, extensive façade work has been going on for several years and has been the object of great interest far beyond specialist circles and has even aroused debate. The buildings are managed by the National Property Board, which is also paying for the restoration. The work on the two palaces is different and hence reflects an important area of the debate on restoration in Sweden. One may briefly state that there is a prevalent understanding among Swedish experts that traditional techniques and materials must be used in restoring historic monuments. In addition, great respect should be shown for original material, which one should, insofar as possible, avoid replacing, together in recent times with respect for the stylistic ideals of different periods. An old building is like a history book and we certainly do not want to rip any pages out of this historical narrative.
2Today, the palace is the official residence of the Swedish royal family. A large part of it is nevertheless open to the public. Since 1991, the palace of Drottningholm, with the Palace Theatre, Chinese Pavilion and the great park have been included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
3Construction of the palace began in 1662 by Queen Hedwig Eleonora von Holstein-Gottorp. The architect was Nicodemus Tessin the Elder (1615-1681). By 1666 the palace was complete. The stucco façades were coloured pale red, while the cornice, pilasters and mouldings were painted with pale grey oil paint. The baroque garden was planned by the architect’s son Nicodemus Tessin the Younger (1654-1728), in the spirit of André Le Nôtre, and some of the garden was reconstructed in the mid-twentieth century. In the middle of the eighteenth century, the then Queen Louisa Ulrica von Brandenburg, Frederick the Great’s sister, commissioned the architect Carl Hårleman (1700-1753) to add an additional storey to the low lateral wings of the palace. The palace theatre and the four pavilions between the theatre and the palace were added at the same time. The palace and the surrounding buildings have been pale yellow with a pale grey cornice, pilasters and mouldings since then.
Fig. 1 Different paint layers on the cornice of Drottningholm Palace
© Jan Lisinski
4The yellow colour has naturally varied in brightness over the centuries. In the 1960s, the façades were plastered with a lime cement plaster and the cornice was painted with resin-based paint. The lime cement plaster has resulted in a different effect on the plastered surface and the tinting with lime cement paint ages in a different way from the traditional lime colour. Painting with resin-based paint has caused direct technical problems, as the watertight paint layer holds moisture, resulting in serious erosion.
5The object of the current façade renovation, begun in 1997, is to get as close as possible to the appearance the buildings had at the end of the eighteenth century, when the whole structure was complete and all the buildings had a common yellow colour scheme. In this context, the use of traditional materials is important. It gives an authentic historic sense to surfaces and colour treatment even when one gets close to the building. This means using lime plaster tinted with lime paint and mouldings and woodwork painted with linseed oil paint.
6A small but important architectural element of the overall feel is the vertical part between the upper and lower cornices. In Sweden, we call this part an ‘Italian’, possibly symbolising the roof terraces of southern Europe and Italy, but in Sweden built with a protective roof. Traditionally, this vertical part has been treated as a piece of the façade and hence coloured like it, but over the years it has instead come to be thought of as a part of the roof and acquired the colouration of the latter. Old illustrations of the palace show the original style and this part is once again being painted yellow as an element of today’s renovation of the façades.
Fig. 2 Drottningholm Palace after the latest renovation. The vertical part between the upper and lower cornices on the roof is treated as a piece of the façade.
© Jan Lisinski
7The work being carried out on the façades is as follows:
8On the plastered parts of the walls, approximately 5 mm of 1960s lime cement plaster is being removed using small facing cutters. The surface is vacuum cleaned and the entire plaster surface is then thoroughly wetted before 3-4 mm of pure lime plaster is applied. This lime plaster consists of pure lime paste, sand and ground dolomite with a maximum particle size of 2 mm. This is topped by a thin 1-2 mm skim consisting merely of lime paste and ground dolomite. When the plaster surface has carbonised, it is tinted with 3-4 coats of lime paint and finally fixed with limewater. The lime paint consists of water and lime paste with yellow ochre as the predominant pigment.
9Woodwork such as windows and doors is painted with pure linseed-oil paint well brushed out. Window glass is stopped with linseed-oil putty.
10Stucco work, particularly on the cornices, is being cleaned and an inventory made of sculptural details. Certain parts need to be built up again. Necessary reinforcement is executed as a stainless steel wire armature on which lime stucco is sculptured in the traditional way. The lime stucco is applied in layers of 15-20 mm and consists of lime putty, sand and crushed brick (which gives the stucco itself a red colour) with an addition of 15 per cent gypsum mixed with animal glue. When the stucco has dried, it is impregnated with linseed oil and then painted with pigmented linseed-oil paint.
11The stonework, which is to be found in the groups of sculptures and certain architectural details such as capitals, is being renovated and repaired. This involves striking a sensible balance.
12If every damaged part were to be replaced, the palace would soon have no original stonework left. The aged surfaces to which the passage of time has given a patina would then be replaced with new, perfect copies that would dispel the impression of historic authenticity. Parts that have dropped off that do not entail technical problems and do not obscure the architectural impact are therefore not being attended to. Where insertions are required for technical reasons, these are done but normally not with the intention of recreating all the sculptural detail, but simply to ensure drainage of water from the stone surface. Where required, crumbling stone surfaces are being reinforced with silicic acid ester. Inserts are created in lime or sandstone stone powder with an acrylic binder.
13The palace is a major tourist attraction and forms an impressive background, both from the water and from the baroque park. In order to show respect for visitors and their experience of the palace’s surroundings, the scaffolding has been covered with tarpaulins with screen-printed photographs of the areas of the façade they are concealing. It is estimated that the work will be completed in 2004.
14The medieval castle in Stockholm was destroyed by fire in 1697 and in the same year the architect Nicodemus Tessin the Younger submitted drawings for a new, contemporary palace building. Tessin the Younger, who had been a pupil of Bernini, was influenced in the design of the façade by Palazzo Chigi in Rome and Villa Farnese in Caprarola, while Louis XIV’s France provided the model for the furnishings of the state apartments. The Swedish king, Charles XII, was dazzled by French might and wanted to create a strong Baltic empire under Swedish control.
15His dream was shattered at the battle of Poltava in 1709 and building of the palace stopped. When it restarted in 1724, the palace architect was Carl Hårleman. He carried on with Tessin’s plans and the palace was finished in 1754, largely as Tessin the Younger had intended.
16The façade work on Stockholm Palace that is still in progress began in 1992. It has mainly comprised the stonework and renovation of all the palace’s nine hundred and twenty-two windows. But when scaffolding was erected around the façades of the palace, it in turn triggered debate on the colour scheme and whether this too should not be dealt with. The debate ranged far outside specialist circles, with long articles in the daily press. People wanted to return to the yellow colour so popular today instead of the palace’s present colouration that many people feel is too sombre. Local politicians had themselves photographed with broad smiles and cans of yellow paint in front of the façade of the palace in an attempt to win publicity points, but with no insight into the history of the palace’s colour scheme and the importance of the issue. Certain experts were also tempted into overly hasty pronouncements. The previous palace architect, Ove Hidemark, was compelled to expend a great deal of time and commitment to restoring a sensible tenor to the debate.
17In order to understand and be able to make a judgement on the question of the colouring of the palace, it is necessary to take a look into history. This is made possible by new research and new investigations of the palace’s façades. We know that Tessin the Younger drew his inspiration from the Italian baroque. Tessin’s original plaster is also preserved on some attics where the façades were built on later. The plaster is very smooth and tinted with pale brick-red lime paint. Stone details were painted with pale, almost white oil paint.
Fig. 3 The original plaster that Tessin the Younger planned for the whole Palace of Stockholm
© Jan Lisinski
18When building of the palace was completed in 1754, the entire building was tinted in a pale yellow colour, including the stone details and windows. The building became monochrome. In the 1810s the stone details of the north and east façades were painted with pink oil paint on pale yellow plaster façades, but when they continued with the south and west façades in the 1820s this solution was not liked. Instead, the stone details of these façades were painted grey. For the rest of the nineteenth century the palace remained like this, with different colour schemes on different façades.
19However, in the 1890s the plaster was in such a poor condition that it was decided to re-plaster the entire palace at the same time as renovating its entire exterior. In 1897 the old patched and dirty plaster was chipped away and replaced by new plaster, coloured throughout and with a coarser surface. At the same time the oil paint was scraped and brushed away from the stonework in respect for the period’s liking for genuine materials. The new plaster had a more Roman colouration of a red-brown shade. Experts at the end of the nineteenth century did not appreciate the ‘lightweight’ rococo of the eighteenth century but wanted to connect more clearly with Tessin the Younger’s baroque ideal. It was a matter of giving the palace gravity and dignity. The colour came to be the model for many of the new buildings erected around the palace in about 1900. The colour scheme thus came to characterise a part of the city.
Fig. 4 The plaster and colour on Stockholm Palace from the 1950s, which then was a copy of the plaster and colour from the 1890s
© Jan Lisinski
20In the 1950s the plaster and colour of the palace were renewed in the same way as in the 1890s. It is a rather coarse lime-based plaster, coloured throughout with a high cement content. Such plaster gets dirty quickly, as has happened.
21As mentioned, the façade work now being carried out involves windows and stonework. The plaster of the façades is in good technical condition and is simply being relieved of a few decades of grime. It should be able to stay in place for a further thirty to forty years. New tinting with lime paint would only last for a few years before the large proportion of cement in the plaster made the lime flake. It would therefore be necessary to remove at least the outer layer of plaster in order to obtain an acceptable technical solution. Hence the then palace architect Ove Hidemark considered it irresponsible to propose extensive investment in façade work that will not actually need to be carried out for years hence, and that is furthermore based on the dream that the palace continues to exist in an eighteenth-century environment. Today’s reality is that the palace forms the centre of a quarter of the city that was designed at the beginning of the twentieth century and drew its inspiration from the palace’s late nineteenth-century colour scheme. It needs much more to disrupt such a unity. It is therefore much more responsible to invest in replacing the late nineteenth-century water and drainage pipes, which are now worn out, and in improved fire safety.
22With the façades in a well-maintained condition, the question of the palace’s plaster and colour is thus passed to future generations, who must also accept their responsibility.
List of illustrations
|Title||Fig. 1 Different paint layers on the cornice of Drottningholm Palace|
|Caption||© Jan Lisinski|
|Title||Fig. 2 Drottningholm Palace after the latest renovation. The vertical part between the upper and lower cornices on the roof is treated as a piece of the façade.|
|Caption||© Jan Lisinski|
|Title||Fig. 3 The original plaster that Tessin the Younger planned for the whole Palace of Stockholm|
|Caption||© Jan Lisinski|
|Title||Fig. 4 The plaster and colour on Stockholm Palace from the 1950s, which then was a copy of the plaster and colour from the 1890s|
|Caption||© Jan Lisinski|
Jan Lisinski, « Colour schemes and façade work at Drottningholm and Stockholm palaces », Bulletin du Centre de recherche du château de Versailles [Online], | 2002, Online since 04 June 2008, connection on 13 December 2013. URL : http://crcv.revues.org/1763 ; DOI : 10.4000/crcv.1763Top of page
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