Texts in the Exhibition – Houses in Västergötland

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Houses in Västergötland

Västergötland is a landscape in which, despite modernisation, there are still many buildings from earlier times. Apart from the Gothenburg region, Västergötland has no large cities or modern infrastructure. Industrialisation and large-scale agriculture have also had little impact on the landscape. This has allowed for the existence of genuine places, where buildings and environments with human proportions and details create a sense of security and recognition. It is important to note, however, that Västergötland’s fragile environment must be managed appropriately. Older buildings have always been threatened by modernisation. About a hundred years ago, the Nordic Museum in Stockholm carried out an inventory that revealed the disappearance of many of the former buildings and customs of the agricultural landscape in Västergötland. Today it is clear that a significant part of Västergötland’s authentic building culture has been lost, especially in the last 70 years. The exhibition “Houses in Västergötland” aims to present and highlight the cultural heritage of Västergötland for future generations.

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The Swedish Agricultural Revolution

In the Middle Ages, Swedish farmers lived in close-knit villages with their land scattered in different strips around the village. This system gave farmers access to different types of land, but required coordination and caused distance problems. To improve the use of land, the state introduced a gradual land reform. The reform involved grouping land into larger units and redistributing them among landlords in the village. The reform began in the mid-18th century, but was not fully implemented until the 1800s. Farmers were forced to move their farms to the merged estates, often far from their original village sites. Some villages disappeared as many people moved. New settlements were sometimes established with new buildings, while in other cases houses were moved and rebuilt with modernised features. Over time, as the economy improved, larger dwellings and appropriate farm buildings were built.

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Houses of the Farmers

Västergötland does not have a strong local building tradition like other regions in Sweden such as Dalarna or Skåne. People here have been influenced by a variety of sources and have adopted what they found practical or attractive. In the 1800s, when land reforms meant that villages were divided up and farmers had to move their farms, they had the opportunity to adopt new ideals. Initially, many farmers moved their existing buildings to the new farm site, but over time, as rational farming methods improved yields, there was a significant increase in new construction. These new farm buildings, inspired by stately homes and other fine buildings, became larger. They were also more specialised, reflecting a trend that continued into the second half of the 20th century. Typically, these new buildings were constructed using updated drawings found in books and model drawings published since the 19th century.

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Gåramålare – Yard Painters

In the past it was common for property owners, especially in rural areas, to purchase aerial photographs or oil paintings of their properties. In the second half of the 1900s, many companies offered to take aerial photographs of houses and farms. Fifty years earlier, however, people had ordered oil paintings of their farms to hang in their homes. Travelling painters, such as Mikael Raatikainen, were commissioned to create these paintings, which depicted entire farms or individual buildings. Raatikainen, who was born in Finland but moved to Sweden at the age of twenty, was one of the most famous painters in Västergötland. He usually lived on the farm while painting, often in a barn or outhouse. The paintings were known for their precision and accuracy, and gave a valuable insight into the appearance and colours of the farms. The price of a painting is said to have been around 25 crowns.

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The Mansion

In Västergötland there were wealthy lords who owned large estates and dominated the region. These lords had homes that are difficult to describe, but we know that they lived on large farms with their families, servants and animals. Over time, many of these farms developed into manor houses. For example, Höjentorp in Eggby parish, Saleby in Slöta parish and Kråk in Mölltorps parish are all mentioned in historical records from the 13th century. The main building at Kråk is on display at Västergötland’s Museum. Although there are also magnificent castles in the region, it is the small and medium-sized manor houses that characterise the manor landscape of Västergötland.

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Charles Emil Löfvenskiöld

Charles Emil Löfvenskiöld, a reclusive and modest man, lived on the small farm Bergatorp in the 1800s. Despite being sickly, he became interested in the art of building, especially farm buildings. Seeing cramped and low barns and stables, he was convinced that change was needed. Although he never received any formal architectural training, Löfvenskiöld became the most influential person in the design of houses and farms in the Swedish countryside during the 19th century. Although he worked mainly in Västergötland, his influence can be seen throughout Sweden. Farm buildings throughout the country show obvious inspiration from Löfvenskiöld’s architecture, such as impressive grey stone barns with brickwork, elaborately decorated stables and large red warehouses with carefully designed facades. Many houses also show clear characteristics of Löfvenskiöld’s architectural style.

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Frans Adolf Wahlström

Frans Adolf Wahlström, a prominent architect in the second half of the 19th century in Västergötland is known for his distinctive wooden buildings that incorporate Renaissance forms originally intended for stone. Wahlström’s buildings, often symmetrical Italian villas, can be found in various places in the region. Notable examples include the new main building at Stora Håven in Agnetorp parish and the house at Gunnar Wennerbergsgatan 9 in Skara. One of the most striking buildings, the Bengtzonska villa in Tidaholm, no longer exists. In Tidaholm, Wahlström also designed a villa that demonstrates his ability to transform the visual impact of stone into equally powerful wood architecture. This large villa was commissioned by Tidaholm Mill and served both as the mill’s administration building and as a representative residence for its director. The resulting building was magnificent and exemplified the essence of Wahlström’s wooden architecture.