The Benedicks-Bruce Story
The origins of the Brucebo Fine Art scholarship programs goes back in time to the post-impressionistic era in Europe – the 1880’s – a time when Paris was the undisputed center of artistic creativity. Two young artists, Caroline Benedicks of Sweden and William Blair Bruce of Hamilton, Canada, met in Paris, married and eventually, after many years on the European continent, established their home on the western shore of Gotland, a history laden Swedish island outpost, located approximately halfway between the Swedish mainland and the Baltic State of today’s Latvia. With the untimely death of William already in 1906 and Caroline later, in 1935, the estate, in the late 60’s and early 70’s was in a position to create the Brucebo Foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to the promotion of island-based cultural history, museum institutions and contemporary fine art.
To commemorate the very special Swedish-Canadian link of Caroline and William’s marriage and artistic life, two Fine Art Scholarships for Canadians were established: the Brucebo Fine Art Summer Scholarship and the William Blair Bruce European Fine Art Travel Scholarship.
BENEDICKS – BRUCE CHRONOLOGY 1856 – 1935
1856: Caroline Benedicks is born in Stockholm October 28, 1856 . Her father was Edward Otto Benedicks , the owner of Gysinge Iron Bruk in the country of Gästrikland, located some 120 km. north-northwest of Stockholm . Edward B. belonged to the highest echelons of industrial Sweden . The Benedicks had immigrated into Sweden from today’s Germany, and settled in Stockholm in the 1790s. Originally, they stemmed from e small mining town called Bleicherode in the Harz region , central Germany. They were owners of Gysinge from 1823 – 1903.
1859: William Blair Bruce is born in Hamilton, Ontario. His father was William Bruce , born 1833, in Scotland. The family emigrated from Scotland to Hamilton, Ontario in 1837.
1881: William B. – Willie – sails for Europe, via Britain.
1883: Caroline B. arrives in Grez – Paris and spends the Summer there, a great place for Swedish artists . Many of the younger generation of Scandinavian artist elites congregated in the Paris area, and villages such as Grez sur Loing and Barbizon. The outskirts to Paris were major “ hang-outs “ for young Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish artists, notably painters. It was at Grez that Caroline and Willie met in 1884 and fell in love but it was a rather short and sweet encounter. The reason: Willie was broke and had decided to return to Hamilton, he was literally penny-less! Added to his frustration was the fact that the S.S Brooklyn, the steamship with whom he had entrusted his collection of paintings, practically his whole Paris-based artistic production, for transport to Canada and Hamilton, went under in a bad winter storm at Foxes Bay, on the southern shore of Anticosti Island. Willie broke down and sailed straight home to Hamilton for a recuperative stay for an undisclosed period of time.
1885: a dramatic visit by Caroline B. to New York, and with Willie coming down for a meeting , re-affirms their affection to each other. Caroline returns to Paris with the promise by Wille to “come back soon” to Europe. They are engaged in October 1885.
1888: …and they got married December 4, 1888 in Stockholm, the high society wedding of the year. Shortly afterwords they traveled back to France and Paris, then settled on the continent, while discovering continental Europe . They had the financial means for such endeavors.
1889: Caroline and Willie visit Gotland for the first time, probably persuaded by artistic friends of Caroline , who had settled permanently on the island, Sweden’s most history-laden milieu .Caroline and Willie use Grez as their permanent home, but had still time to make an annual trip up north, which invariably included a visit to Gotland.
1894: Caroline makes a Gotland visit on her own. As a result of this trip, they decide to relocate to Gotland, and in …
1899: … they purchase the Skälsö Gård property “the Brucebo” the Bruce Homestead but it took some 6 years of construction work to have it all finished and really ready in 1905.
1906: Wiilian Bruce dies in November in Stockholm .
1907: Caroline organises a memorial exhibition in Paris.
1972: the Brucebo Fine Art Scholarships Foundation of Gotland is established and the first Canadian fine art scholarship is awarded to Lena Madsen of Toronto, Ontario.
1980’s: Gunnar Svahnstrom, Gotland Art History superintendent visits Montreal and Hamilton to meet with Canadian art historians in Ottawa, Oshawa and Hamilton .
Mid 1990’s: a second scholarship is set up – the William Blair Bruce European Fine Art Travel Scholarship.
2007: the Gotland-based board of the BB Foundation makes a second study trip to Canada.
2008: plans are being discussed about organizing a BB round trip exhibition based on the Canadiana Canadiana Collection at the Gotland Museum of Fine Art, where the depositions of scholarship winners’ art work are stored.
THE BENEDICKS – BRUCE STORY – A RATHER ROMANTIC SAGA . AND IT IS A REAL STORY!
– JAN LUNDGREN, November 2009
BENEDICKS-BRUCE “ PLACE ENVIRONMENTS ”
The Benedicks-Bruce life story can conveniently be read as a time-and- place chronology, within which the relevance or importance of some places or events stand out , because of their prominence in the minds of the persons involved. I use the term “place environments” as opposed to the term “location”. The former implies a multitude of localized elements responsible for the creation of the “place”; in contrast, the term “location” means often the same as “geographic positioning” of a given item or person.
For Caroline and William, their various “locations” were in their minds , usually important places and involved broader identified environments they happened to visit or stay in for a while. The sequence of, or chronological string of places visited or experienced while traveling , represent “ place environments”, and together they constituted the means by which their lives were lived . Consequently, they constitute the chronological set of remembered circumstances that ultimately constituted their independent or joint live stories.
1. The historic era as such:
Caroline’s and Will’s lives span a fascinating historical era , starting in 1856 and 1859 , during the same decade respectively, but ending at quite disparate years, as well as distinctly different eras: Willie dies in 1906 in Stockholm, around the Belle Epoque turn of the century , a time that still reflects the modernity phases of the 1800’s – the steam engine , the railway, electricity, the telegraph, the scheduled transatlantic steamship crossings – all innovations that took place before the tragic Titanic event in 1912. – In contrast, Caroline will live for almost three more decades, passing away in 1935, in a truly modern-oriented era, in fact only four years shy of the outbreak of WWII.
2. Cosmopolitan travel enthusiasts:
During their lives they were quite mobile – they could afford it thanks to Caroline’s substantial inherited wealth. They came to love traveling, indeed they belonged to the first wave of “high society “international tourists, and consequently enjoyed spending time in a variety of distinctly different geographic environments and cultural milieus. Thus any story of their lives must in some way or the other recognize their cosmopolitan personalities.
They felt very much at home in PARIS of the 1880s and stayed for long periods of time in the city or its surroundings. Paris was familiar grounds for both of them. It had a special meaning for them as well – they had first met each other at GREZ-SUR- LOING outside Paris , one of many hang-out places for the younger generation of upstart Scandinavian painter artists – the Danes, the Finns, the Norwegians, the Swedes , budding artists that toward the end of the century would develop into shining stars in their respective homelands.
The same applied to GOTLAND AND VISBY especially after they around 1995 became house owners at the Själsö fishing village some 7 km. north of Visby and when everything they needed had been built, Gotland became their northern operations base . They most likely spent long periods of time in their newfound home environment. It was on Gotland they finally settled down . And they are both buried in the bucolic and tranquil cemetery of the VÄSKINDE parish church , a classic and typical medieval design dating back to the 14th century as is the case with the majority of the hundred church buildings dotting the peaceful and lush Gotland countryside.
They roved Europe , especially the MEDITERRANEAN COAST AND COTE D’AZUR , be it the French version or the Italian , be it Southern Italy, or the Riviera , but they also lusted for contrasting environments – thus , they trekked north into SWEDISH LAPPLAND, with Willie making comparisons between the Swedish native Sami people and the Canadian aboriginal counterpart, the Indians and the Inuit.
Traveling was the dominant factor in their life style. They did it, because they liked it and could afford it! They enjoyed the modern traveling comfort provided by the Europe of the Railway era, a fascinating experience that made most corners of the continent conveniently accessible. If you had the money, which they did, they could tour different geographic sectors of the Continent : ST.PETERSBURG could be conveniently reached from either Gotland , Stockholm or major urban centers on the continent . Likewise, VIENNA gloried as a destination , which easily could be integrated into a personalized “grand tour “ , with Paris as the place of departure, taking the travelers east toward Munich, and from there southeast into the Realm of the Austro-Hungarian –Danubian Empire, with cities such as Vienna proper , but also Budapest only a few hours further downriver . From there one could easily connect with trains services toward TRIESTE and the VENETIAN COAST with its famous north-Italian mainland cities and then cut across TUSCANY toward the LIGURIAN ITALIAN RIVIERA with the European alps beckoning just behind the coastal corridor.
They did make visits to Willies home country, Canada and HAMILTON , but also to NEW YORK CITY, the place that eventually had witnessed the dramatic encounter in 1885 which sealed their relationships. From thereon followed their wedding in 1888 in STOCKHOLM, in the HEDVIG-ELEONORA PARISH CHURCH, literally the wedding of the year.
Their traveling was generous, but not remarkable. The Belle Epoque era of the 1880-– 1914, was hardly unique. Even those less endowed financially did move around. And if you reached the Mediterranean coast it was easy to find a sea bound connection for a change. I find it fascinating that ,as an example, author Selma Lagerlöv who around 1900 travelled south from Sweden to Marseille ,from where she found a marine service taking her to Palestine in order to get realistic first-hand impressions of the area and its milieus where the “Ingemarsons farmers of Swedish Dalecarlia” had settled in the early 1890s .
Tourist travel was relatively safe. Exotic Marocco in the West and historical Egypt and Palestine in the East were popular tourist destinations among the upper West European middle class, as were the Greek islands archipelago. In many cases Thomas Cook Travel Company organised such tourist trips. If on the other hand you wanted to save money the Paris based Scandinavian artists could cut down on distance and simply take the train from Paris to the Normandy coast or journey south toward Marseille and Provence in order to get a break from the hectic Parisian urban – but cosmopolitan – environment . Paris was the artistic centre – and was therefore the true, creative place for an artist with aspirations for greatness ! Just look at William Bruce arguing for a long Parisian stay with his parents . He got approx. four years to shape his artistic style and approach. His motto , “I paint for posterity” gave him the drive and enthusiasm he needed , but there was of course a limit even to him .
– Jan Lundgren, Montreal, January 2010