Gunnebo

In the summer of 1789 (?), country house Gunnebo was ready to be moved into. It is placed in the outskirts for Gothenburg, 15-20 minutes with car from the city centrum. However, when it was built it var further from the city, and with horse and carriage it could take 5-6 hours to reach the house. And through the years it built an interesting story.

In the course of a life time, much can change. In what can be called a traditional society, much of what put food on the table was a direct result of some manual labour. What you had seeded, you could harvest. Of course, in bad years the fruit of the land could be severely diminishes, but you could start Anne the next term and hope for a better harvest. The more you cultivated the land, the more likely it was that the labour gained fruit. At the advent of commerce, however, all of that changed. When trade in some greater scale was being developed and carried out, more advanced and less transparent rules would have to apply.

Merchant John Häll was one of the richest men in Gothenburg at the end of the 18th century. He had inherited some money from his father, but mainly he built his own wealth on trade with countries in Europe and especially China. The main commodity on his part was iron, wood and fish. Under the management of Hall senior, the business was thriving and the fortune just kept on increasing. And as one did at the time, he had a cottage built to show his wealth.

In fact, it is not a cottage. Nowadays it is called a castle, but it’s not exactly that either. It is built in wood, but still quite impressive. The interior of the building is really taking up latest fades of the day at the time it was built, and no expense was spared in order to impress the higher society of Gothenburg in the late 1790s.

At the time, neoclassical influences was making its progress through Europe, paving a way for knowledge about the beliefs and visual expressions of the Classical Greek period. In many of the rooms, sculptures of Greek goddesses and symbols of beliefs are present. Venus, and symbol of Bacchus (or Dyoneuseos as he was called in Ancient Greece) goes throughout the rooms.

What is kind of interesting, is that the latest fads included how to raise a child, as well. Jean-Jacques Rousseau had published his now famous novel Emile, a book that made great impact on the continental ideas on how childhood should be seen. Although enlightenment at the time had emerged as a strong force in science and society at large, Rousseau’s more romantic thoughts had gained ground in some specific areas. Child raising was one of them. 

For the Hälls to show their knowledge and their identity with the continental thoughts, their som, John Häll Jr., became a victim of Rousseau’s free and non-restricted ways of surfing through childhood. John Häll Jr. was able to do exactly what he wanted in his early years, and what he chose to do was art. He had some talent for drawing and painting, and developed his skills through the years. 

But then, the point in time came when John Häll Sr. passed away, and Jr. was the one to take over the business. However, as John Häll Jr. had never shown any interest in his father business while he was still alive (and was not forced to do so), he had not the slightest idea of how to go about this activity, let alone the skill and foresight that his father had shown. Helped also by a decline in the national economy, John Häll Jr. had finished off his fathers inheritance and business in just a few years. His sister was married well, and was not particularly affected economically by his brothers disaster, but their mother, who still lived in the family houses, had to move in with relatives. John Häll Jr. himself died poor and alone. Quite some fall for someone living a life where a estate like Gunnebo was just a country house. 

In some sense, this is perhaps a lesson to be learned here: don’t get attached to more than you can manage to maintain. Or: Do the things you like. It is not hard to imagine the distress that John Häll Jr. felt when the distant contours of ruin emerged, and he was not able to see what was the right thing to do. Much can look interesting and exciting at a distance, but when actually engaging in it, you finds that you totally lack the necessary knowledge and skills to do the job. In John Häll Jr.’s case, it seemed quite distressing to be brought up in a family of great wealth, living the easy life for most of his childhood and adolescent years, just to grow up, facing the fact that he was left to a business with no guiding lights, what so ever.