Decorated Farmhouses of Hälsingland

Decorated Farmhouses of Hälsingland

Seven timber houses are listed in this site located in the east of Sweden, representing the zenith of a regional timber building tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages. They reflect the prosperity of independent farmers who in the 19th century used their wealth to build substantial new homes with elaborately decorated ancillary houses or suites of rooms reserved for festivities. The paintings represent a fusion of folk art with the styles favoured by the landed gentry of the time, including Baroque and Rococo. Decorated by painters, including known and unknown itinerant artists, the listed properties represent the final flowering of a long cultural tradition.

Fermes décorées de Hälsingland

Sept maisons de bois composent ce site de l’est de la Suède qui représente l’apogée de cette tradition régionale de construction en bois qui remonte au Moyen âge. Cette tradition reflète la prospérité des fermiers indépendants qui utilisèrent leurs richesses, au XIXe siècle, pour construire d’imposantes nouvelles demeures avec des bâtisses entières ou des enfilades de salles entièrement réservées aux fêtes. Les peintures témoignent de la fusion de l’art populaire et des styles prisés par l’aristocratie terrienne tels que le baroque ou le rococo. Décorés par des peintres, artistes itinérants connus ou inconnus, les biens représentent l’épanouissement final d’une tradition culturelle profondément enracinée.

 

Granjas decoradas de Hälsingland

El sitio consiste en siete casas de madera situadas al este de Suecia que representan el apogeo de la construcción en madera en la región, una tradición que se remonta a la Edad Media. Reflejan la posteridad de los granjeros independientes que, en el siglo XIX, utilizaron sus riquezas para construirse viviendas nuevas con salas o habitaciones auxiliares profusamente decoradas reservadas para las festividades. Las pinturas que las adornan representan la fusión del arte folk con los estilos preferidos por la aristocracia terrateniente de la época, entre ellos el barroco y el rococó. Decorados por pintores y artistas conocidos o desconocidos que viajaban de una a otra, los sitios inscritos representan el florecimiento final de una larga tradición cultural.

source: UNESCO/ERI

Versierde boerderijen van Hälsingland

In het oosten van Zweden staan zeven houten huizen, die het hoogtepunt vormen van een regionale houten bouwtraditie die teruggaat tot de middeleeuwen. De huizen weerspiegelen de welvaart van onafhankelijke boeren die in de 19e eeuw hun rijkdom gebruikten om aanzienlijke nieuwe woningen te bouwen met rijk versierde bij-woningen of suites van kamers die alleen voor festiviteiten werden gebruikt. De schilderijen vertegenwoordigen een mix van volkskunst met de favoriete stijlen van de landadel van die tijd, waaronder barok en rococo. De boerderijen zijn gedecoreerd door schilders, waaronder bekende en onbekende rondreizende kunstenaars. De houten huizen vormen de laatste opleving van een lange culturele traditie.

Source: unesco.nl

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Decorated Farmhouses of Hälsingland © Gävleborg County Administrative Board
Outstanding Universal Value

Brief synthesis

In a comparatively small area of north-eastern Sweden, bordering the Gulf of Bothnia and known as Hälsingland, are a concentration of large richly decorated, wooden farmhouses and associated farm buildings reflecting the peak of prosperity for the farming landscape in the 19th century and the social status of its farmers.

Seven large timber farmhouses with richly decorated interiors are part of a concentration of over a thousand surviving timber structures in the Hälsingland area, dating mainly from the 18th and 19th centuries that reflect a timber building tradition that originated in the Middle Ages (12th-16th centuries AD).

The farmhouses, set in long fertile valleys within the Taiga forest landscape, reflect the prosperity of independent farmers who used economic surplus from their exploitation of flax and woodland to build substantial new houses with entire buildings or suites of rooms used solely for festivities. The owners commissioned artists from Hälsingland or itinerant painters from neighbouring Dalarna to provide highly decorative interiors to reflect their social status. These decorated houses combine local building and local folk art traditions in a highly distinctive way that can be seen as the final flowering of a folk culture with deep roots in north-west Europe.

The seven houses are spread across an area 100 km from east to west and 50 km north to south. Six of these are in Hälsingland Province with a seventh just across the border in Dalarna Province – although this area was culturally part of Hälsingland in the 1800s.

A particularly distinctive feature of the farmhouses is the provision of either a separate house, a Herrstuga, or rooms in the main house, set aside for festivities, special occasions or assemblies, and hardly used for the rest of the year. These rooms were usually the most highly decorated in the farmstead. Decoration consists of canvas or textile paintings affixed to the walls, or paintings directly onto the wooden ceilings or walls, some supplied in the 19th century by itinerant painters from neighbouring Dalarna, and known as Dalecarlian paintings. The subjects were often biblical but with the people depicted in the latest fashions of the time. The painting style can be seen as a fusion of popular art and contemporary landed-gentry styles, such as Baroque, Rococo or “le style gustavien”.

The seven farmhouses are Kristofers farm, Stene, Järvsö, Gästgivars farm, Vallstabyn, Pallars farm, Långhed, Jon-Lars farm, Långhed, Bortom åa farm, Gammelgården, Bommars farm, Letsbo, Ljusdal, and Erik-Anders farm, Askesta village, Söderala. All have a number of decorated rooms for festivities (between four and ten), largely intact ranges of farm buildings, and are sited within a landscape context that has the capacity to reflect their agrarian function.

Criterion (v): The large, impressive farmhouses of Hälsingland, with their highly decorative rooms for festivities, reflect an extraordinary combination of timber building and folk art traditions, the wealth and social status of the independent farmers who built them, and the final flowering of a long cultural tradition in Hälsingland.

Integrity

Each of the seven farmhouses contributes strongly to the overall outstanding universal value of the property in terms of displaying highly decorated festivities rooms in timber buildings, within an overall farmstead and within an open landscape that reflects its agrarian origins. Also each farmstead reflects slightly different aspects of the way farmhouses incorporated rooms for festivities and the types of decorations that were applied by different artists. Together the seven sites display all the attributes of Outstanding Universal Value.

None of the attributes can be said to be vulnerable.

Authenticity

All the farmhouses have been selected to show the relationship between the festivities rooms and the rest of the farmstead, for their good state of preservation and for their ability to display the full range of responses in architectural and decorative terms.

Together the seven components can be said to include all the attributes necessary to convey fully and truthfully Outstanding Universal Value. The repairs and restoration of individual elements have been undertaken by skilled professionals using mostly traditional materials and techniques. The exception is the roofing of farmhouses and farm buildings where traditional roofing material has been replaced by more modern materials in order to ensure the protection of the decorative rooms. In a very few cases, wall decoration has been reconstructed but these do not relate to the key rooms decorated between 1800 and 1870. Five of the sites are still directly associated with farming activities. The exceptions are Gästgivars and Bortom åa but these retain their agricultural surroundings.

Protection and management requirements

All components of the property are protected as cultural heritage buildings under the Cultural Heritage Act, 1988 and this ensures protection of the fabric and decorated interiors.

All the buffer zones, except Bommars, have been designated as areas of national interest for the conservation of the cultural environment under the Environmental code, 1988. That for Bommars needs to be extended to encompass the visible village landscape and given national protection.

For all the buffer zones, special protection measures have been draw up, under the Planning and Building Act, 1987. These allow for building permits to be requested even where these are not mandatory. The protective measures afforded by the buffer zone are included in the Municipal Plans. All municipalities have given assurances that all measures at their disposal will be used to protect the areas from unsuitable development.

All but one of the components of the property are in private ownership. There is thus a high reliance on private owners having the resources and competences to carry out maintenance, on-going conservation of buildings, and to keep agricultural practices alive in the surrounding farmland. As there is a long standing tradition of local craftsmanship in Hälsingland, this traditional protection currently works well.

The overall management of the series is undertaken by a World Heritage Management Committee. It consists of the farmhouse owners and authorities with a supervisory responsibility (the County Administrative Board and the municipalities) as well as other actors which have a vested interest in the development and continued existence of the property, such as local and county museums, the local development agency and the University of Gävle. The partners in the management committee will make decisions on measures to protect the property’s values in accordance with Swedish legislation. The management committee also functions as a forum for raising important and current issues related to conservation and preservation, educational initiatives, sustainable development as well as participation and collaboration.

The Committee reports annually to the National Heritage Board.

A management plan for the property sets out over-arching objectives and areas for priority work. The Management Plan awaits approval by the County Governor. The Management Plan will be implemented by the World Heritage Management Committee and facilitated by a World Heritage Coordinator.

The value of the seven houses is conveyed by the smallest details of the decorated interiors. Although the state of conservation of the decorations is currently good, there is a need to benchmark what is there now and to document conservation history for each of the houses to underpin future monitoring.

The greatest threat to the seven components of the property is fire and there is an urgent need for fire protection policies to be in place for all components, within the context of overall emergency response policies. This process has now been started and will be enacted during 2012.

Long Description

In a comparatively small area of north-eastern Sweden, bordering the Gulf of Bothnia and known as Hälsingland, are a concentration of large richly decorated, wooden farmhouses and associated farm buildings reflecting the peak of prosperity for the farming landscape in the 19th century and the social status of its farmers.

 The seven sites are, spread across an area 100 km from east to west and 50 km north to south. Six of these are in Hälsingland Province with a seventh just across the border in Dalarna Province – although this area was culturally part of Hälsingland in the 1800s. The farmhouses are seen as the best and most representative of the decorated farmhouse tradition, and have been selected from some 400 surviving decorated rooms.

 Hälsingland is mountainous and fairly densely afforested province with the small amount of cultivable land (approximately 5% of the total) in long narrow, flat, valleys alongside lakes and rivers.

 The rural landscape of small villages and scattered farmsteads has evolved over at least seven centuries. The landscape reflects the comparative independence of the farmers, traditional communal use of pasture, and mixed farming based on cattle breeding, arable cultivation, forestry, flax growing and hunting.

 In the 19th century, communal use of woodland and pasture and traditional sharing of valley fields was replaced by a legal apportionment of land to farmers, part of a national land regularisation scheme This change brought considerable prosperity to the farmers who invested their new wealth in large buildings.

 A particularly distinctive feature of the new or enlarged farmhouses was the provision of either a separate house, a Herrstuga, or rooms in the main house, set aside for festivities, special occasions or assemblies, and hardly used for the rest of the year. These rooms were usually the most highly decorated in the farmstead.

 In the 18th century, most farms had houses and farm buildings arranged around a courtyard with a Portlider, or access building on one side. During the 19th century, the layout was often changed to a more open arrangement of house with side wings. Gradually during the hundred years from around 1800 many houses also changed from one storey to either one and a half or two storeys.

 Most buildings were constructed of jointed horizontal timbers of pine or spruce from the village’s forests. By the 18th century, the face of the timbers was planed smooth and in the 19th century many buildings were faced first with broad, hand-sawn, vertical timber boards, and later machine cut ones, often painted, to make the houses look more similar to those constructed of brick. Dark red paint using pigments from the Falun copper mines was also used in Hälsingland (and all over Sweden) and came to be seen a symbolic of Swedish rural life. Later in the 19th century lighter pastel colours were also introduced. The traditional roof covering was birch bark, held in place by thin split rods. This was supplanted in the 19th century by nailed shingles and in the 20th by tiles for dwellings and tin sheets for outbuildings.

 A distinctive feature of the 19th century houses is their elaborate decoration, a fusion of popular art and contemporary landed-gentry styles, such as Baroque, Rococo and “le style gustavien”. On the outside, this elaboration is commonly found in carved decoration around the main entrance door or porch, the work of local cabinet makers. Within, the houses were decorated with canvas or textile paintings affixed to the walls, or with paintings directly onto the wooden ceilings or walls, some supplied in the 19th century by itinerant painters from neighbouring Dalarna (Dalecarlia), and known as Dalecarlian paintings. The subjects were often biblical but with the people depicted in the latest fashions of the time. Four hundred painted interiors have been recorded, the majority from the 19th century. The names of ten painters are known, although the majority of the work remains anonymous.

 The seven sites selected consist of farmhouses with a number of decorated rooms for festivities (between four and ten), with largely intact ranges of farm buildings, and sited within a landscape context that has the capacity to reflect their agrarian function.

 In detail, the property consists of the following farms.

 1. Kristofers farm, Stene, Järvsö

Kristofers farm, with two houses and service buildings arranged around three sides of the courtyard, is on the outskirts of the village of Stene. It was reconstructed in the early 19th century. The larger of the two houses was used solely for festive occasions and both its banqueting house and other domestic rooms have been richly decorated with freestyle and stencilled floral paintings, created by Anders Ädel in the 1850s, and which are typical of the upper Ljusnandal area.

The festivities room in the banqueting house – where the most important celebratory meals were served – has a free-hand painting of landscape views, divided into panels and framed by columns, wreathed in red and blue drapery. The central panel has a cross crowned with an eye, a symbol of God’s all-seeing eye that marked the place for honoured guests.

 2. Gästgivars farm, Vallstabyn

In the 1860s this farm, at the edge of the village of Vallsta, had an enclosed plan – four buildings around a courtyard. The fourth side was later removed and a further group of farm buildings constructed around a yard to the south.

The farm has two dwellings. The residential building was constructed around 1800 but refaced with smooth wooden panels in 1882. The second building, which was reserved for festivities, was constructed in 1838. The building for festivities was decorated throughout by Jonas Wallström over a period of some years. On the ground floor the main room is still in its original state, whereas some of the others have been partially repainted since the 1950s. The unrestored room has stencilled paintings on stretched linen fabric in a vertical design in imitation of silk brocade that is characteristic of Wallström’s work. Around the paintings is a printed wallpaper border.

 3. Pallars farm, Långhed

Långhed village is characterised by large farmhouses often of two and a half stories and impressive complexes of farm buildings.

 Pallars has three houses, dating from the 1850s or slightly earlier, grouped around a courtyard. Both the main house and a house reserved for festivities in the east wing have Dalecarlian paintings. Pallars represents the time when large residential buildings had reached their zenith in Hälsingland. The main central house is of two and a half storeys with a mansard roof. Its façade is finished with smooth wooden panels now painted white and presumably originally painted to imitate pale stone. The house has a large richly carved porch. Within, two rooms retain their  painted decoration. On the ground floor a living room has landscape paintings by Svärdes Hans Errson. The paintings executed in oils, together form one overall panorama of trees and bushes.

 4. Jon-Lars farm, Långhed

Jon-Lars is the largest of all the Hälsingland farmhouses with seventeen rooms over two and a half storeys. Built for two brothers and their families in 1857, its empire-style porch shelters have two doors that lead to two separate residential quarters. The house is unusual in that all the rooms for domestic functions were within one roof and there is thus no separate festivities building. There are also no flanking farm buildings, the main group of farm buildings dating from the mid-19th century being a short distance away.

 5. Bortom åa farm, Gammelgården

Bortom åa is a remote forest village in the border district between Hälsingland and Dalarna, an area that was colonised in the 1600s by Finnish immigrants. Its main farmhouse, built in 1819 and extended in 1835, was originally enclosed by a second house and farm buildings but these were moved further away at the end of the 19th century.

 The entire old house has been preserved with its fittings and fixtures so that it now reflects a complete farmer’s house from the mid-19th century. Some of the rooms were decorated in the 1820s and 1830s and others between 1856 and 1863. The lower of the two festivities rooms was decorated in 1825. The main image is of Sweden’s Crown Prince in a covered carriage, flanked by soldier. Around the rest of the room are flower motifs on the walls and landscapes with buildings and figures above windows and doors. On the first floor, a festivities room was decorated in 1856 by the Dalecarlian painter Bäck Anders Hansson with stylised flowers in strong colours within simple frames.

 6. Bommars farm, Letsbo, Ljusdal

Bommars farm consists of winter and summer houses built in the 1840s at right angles to each other, of two and one and a half storeys respectively. Both have late 19th century porches.

 The rooms for festivities take up the entire upper storey of the winter house. The main room has walls covered with hand printed wallpaper, the design copied from wallpaper preserved at Ekebyhof Castle near Stockholm. Two other chambers were decorated at the same time, one with painted, marbled panels framed by a stenciled border and the second with a factory produced Renaissance revival style wallpaper.

 7. Erik-Anders farm, Askesta village, Söderala

Construction of Erik-Anders farmhouse was begun in 1825 and, with its originally yellow painted facades, and hipped and gabled roof with classical moulding, it resembled a small manor house. Its one multi-purpose

farm building was constructed in 1915.

 

There are festivities rooms on both of its two floors and these were decorated in 1850 by members of the Knutes family from Dalarna. The ground floor room now has wallpaper from the 1890s, while the decorations in the upper rooms survive. The largest room has restrained decoration with marbled dados, below marbled panels with patterned border, and with garlands of flowers over the doors.

Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC