It has been said that Prince Eugen, the youngest son of the future King Oscar II and Queen Sophie of Sweden and Norway, became an artist in spite of rather than because of his royal birth. After studying art history for a while, he became fascinated by the new, radical movements in art and moved to Paris, where he studied under Léon Bonnat, Alfred Roll, and for a short while Pierre Puvis de Chavannes. Prince Eugen was a landscape painter, and his paintings often depicted cultural landscapes from the environs of Stockholm, Mälaren, and Skåne. In the 1890s the prince became a leading practitioner of mood paintings, which his Norwegian friends Eilif Peterssen, Frits Thaulow, and Erik Werenskiold also painted.
The Lake depicts the gently rolling landscape of Balingsta, Sweden and its fields, woods, and manors. The dominant image in the quiet evening is the local lake, Orlången, as it lies unperturbed by a single ripple on its surface. The new moon, which is reflected in the water, suggests that nightfall is imminent, and lamps have been lit in the window of the large house across the lake.
In the neo-romantic mood paintings of the fin de siècle, the painters allowed the details to melt together in unified fields. Prince Eugen lets the fairly rough surface of the canvas here correspond to a relatively dry, grainy treatment of the colours, while dabs of blue and yellow (the colours of the Swedish flag) in the shadow of the trees create an optical effect that set Swedish hearts racing. As the prince himself noted in a September 1892 letter to the Swedish author Helena Nyblom:
“I cannot fathom how one could possibly paint with other colours than blue and yellow. Not only do they provide a foretaste of the blessed hereafter, they are also complementary colours. How fun it is to be scientifically trained!”
Text: Frode Haverkamp
From "Highlights. Art from Antiquity to 1945", Nasjonalmuseet 2014, ISBN 978-82-8154-088-0