Princely rugs: Sigvard Bernadotte

Part 2 of post on Sigvard Bernadotte

A friend asked recently if there were no male rug designers in Sweden at mid-century.  Yes, there are– I know of 3.  Bernadotte is one, and I will look at the other two in time. And maybe discover others.

But weaving has always been a very female occupation, in Sweden as elsewhere.  At the Bauhaus, for example, many of the young women who first arrived there intending to study painting or architecture were funneled into the textile department, an area considered by even the progressive Bauhaus professors as more “suitable”for women. But Sweden also had, even in the mid-twentieth century, a thriving tradition of home weavers. That tradition continues today.  Where most American girls growing up in the 1930s through the 60s were taught to use a sewing machine, and had one in the house, many of their counterparts in Sweden, and elsewhere in Scandinavia, learned to weave and had a loom around.

As a result, nearly all those who worked in the textile section of the Home Crafts (Hemslöjd) movement in Sweden, and studied and taught in the weaving departments in the nation’s arts schools, and in specialized weaving schools like Johanna Brunsson’s school were women.  There were a few exceptions such as Ernst Fischer who studied and taught the history of traditional textiles. But Swedish industry too as it began to be mechanized, was also almost entirely populated by female designers as well as workers.  So yes, men were a bit of an anomaly in the field of Swedish rug design.

But Sigvard Bernadotte, as we have seen, was a design polymath.  He seems to have designed whatever contemporary products he could bring his design eye to, and enjoyed dealing with the parameters imposed by working in different materials.

It was apparently during the 1950s when he was still working in Denmark that Bernadotte  began to design rugs for Nils Nessim’s Textile Atelier in Sweden, labeling his work simply “SB” in the lower right hand corner. He designed both flat-weave (rölakan) and pile rugs (flossa), as well as sophisticated relief-pile rugs like the one shown in the title image.

Nessim himself had grown up in the rug trade, the son of a Bulgarian dealer who had brought rugs to the 1914 Baltic fair in Malmö and ended up marrying and staying in Malmö, setting up one of the first companies to market oriental rugs in Sweden.  Nils Nessim became in turn a successful salesman and connoisseur of rugs, antiques and late in his life, Chinese antiquities. After the war he was active in creating a market throughout Sweden in oriental rugs. But from the 1950s to the early 70s, he also began producing rugs designed by Bernadotte, Aina Kange, Solveig Westerberg and other Swedish designers. These carried a blue and white NN label on the reverse side, with the name of the designer (see image below). Because Nessim had established branch stores to sell oriental rugs throughout southern Sweden, I assume these rugs were also widely distributed.

Bernadotte label NIs Nessims4527n2

But with his own office connections, Bernadotte was alive to the possibilities of international marketing, and could arrange to show his work and sell abroad in a way many of his Swedish contemporary designers could not. In February 1950, he had a show of 100 (!) of his rug designs at Lord and Taylor in New York, and this show then traveled to other department stores in Chicago, Dallas and Minneapolis.Below is a photo from Chicago where Bernadotte’s rugs were shown at the Marshall Field & Company department store:

Bernadotte press
Sigvard Bernadotte in a Chicago press photograph with several of his rugs at the Marshall Field & Co. department store, March 7, 1950. Rug behind him on wall is shown below and as title image.

I assume these rugs were for sale, since the venues were well-known department stores. And in 1951, Schumacher, one of the premier New York interiors showrooms, showed his “Celebration” rug, an abstract reworking of a traditional tree-of-life design. Bernadotte seems to have continued to design for Nissim well into the 1960s, given the fact that his work was published throughout this period in both American and British magazines.

Bernadotte’s rug designs are marked by the same graphic balance and verve that characterize his silver work and his industrial designs. They draw effortlessly on traditional motifs but simplify these to the point of geometric abstraction. The hourglass motif in the first rug shown below dates back to the 18th century, but his treatment is a crisp 20th century rendition.  The photos that follow show several of his rug designs, and the range of rug types he worked with.

Bernadotte timglass
Sigvard Bernadotte, flat weave rug (rölakan) “Timglas”, 12’2″x 8’2”, ca 1960. From FJ Hakimian, Vintage Carpets
Sigvard Bernadotte, “Harlequin” flatweave (rölakan) carpet, 74” x119” in. (188×302 cm), signed SB. From Wright auction, “20th Century Carpets”, 13 June 2014, item number #547. This was woven in several different colorways.
Bernadotte knotted pile 541
Sigvard Bernadotte, knotted pile rug (flossa), “Ögonstenar”, signed SB in lower right corner, ca 242 x 165 cm. Sold 6/11/14 at Bukowskis Market, Stockholm, object # 541971.
croppedBernadotte Jacksons relief pile copy
Sigvard Bernadotte, relief- pile rug, 193cmx146cm/75.9″x57.5″ Signed SB. and labeled Bernadotte for Nils Nessim textilateleje.  From Jacksons Sweden ref#4527. Image accessed 4/25/16 Title image is a detail of this rug, and name label shown is from the back of this. Note small blood red center dots!


Bukowskis Market, Stockholm

“Decorative Art in Modern Interiors”, British Annual #51, (1961) p. 63, shows Bernadotte’s Timglas design, presumably a recent design

Interiors magazine, “The Rug Story”, March, 1951, vol CX, no. 8, p.113.

New York Times, “Swedish Rugs Go on Display Here”, Feb 17, 1950.

Nils D M Nessim,, Swedish Biographical Dictionary (art by Carl Henrik Carlsson), Retrieved 2016-03-13.

Press photograph of Bernadotte at Marshall Fields taken March 7, 1950, bought on ebay.
Newspaper and photographer unknown, but clipping attached shows a March 16 publication date.

Sigrid Wortmann Weltge,  bauhaus textiles – women artists and the weaving workshop, Thames and Hudson, 1993.

Please reference as follows:

Whidden, Anne, “Princely Rugs ” theswedishrugblog (May 6, 2016); http://; Accessed (month/day/year)



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