As you approach Skeppsholmsbron on the way to Skeppsholmen, you’ll pass the striking waterfront Nationalmuseum, which contains an impressive collection of Swedish and European fine and applied arts from the late medieval period to the present day, contained on three floors.
Changing exhibitions of prints and drawings take up the ground floor as well as several permanent frescoes by Swedish painter Carl Larsson which adorn the six wall panels of the museum’s lower staircase. There is also a museum shop and a decent café, plus lockers to leave your bags in on the ground floor.
The Nationalmuseum’s first floor is devoted to applied art, and those with a penchant for royal curiosities will be pleased to find beds slept in by kings, cabinets leaned on by queens and plates eaten off by nobles, mainly from the centuries when Sweden was a great power. There’s modern work alongside the ageing tapestries and furniture, including Art Nouveau coffeepots and vases, and a collection of simply and elegantly designed wooden chairs.
It’s the second floor that’s most engaging – there’s a plethora of European and Mediterranean sculpture, along with some mesmerizing sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Russian icons. The paintings on this floor include works by El Greco, Canaletto, Gainsborough, Gauguin, Rembrandt and Renoir. Something of a coup for the museum is Rembrandt’s Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis, one of his largest monumental paintings. Depicting a scene from Tacitus’ History, this bold work shows a gathering of well-armed chieftains. There are also some fine works by Swedish artists from the sixteenth to early twentieth centuries – most notably paintings by the nineteenth-century masters Anders Zorn and Carl Larsson. Another, by Carl Gustav Pilo, a late eighteenth-century painter, depicts the coronation of Gustav III in Gamla Stan’s Storkyrkan; it’s worth noting that the white plaster depicted on the columns in the painting has today been removed to expose the underlying red brick.