Day 278 - White House
Every once in a while there is a picture of a beaming Swedish prime minister visiting the President of the United States in the White House. There were, however, no big smiles when Olof Palme visited the US in 1970 soon after becoming Sweden’s Prime Minister. President Nixon was upset about Palme’s criticism about the Vietnam War and wrote “let us completely ignore the visit” in the margin of Henry Kissinger’s memo regarding it. Expressen’s former US correspondent, Staffan Thorsell, who has written the book “Sverige i Vita Huset”, notes that 22 seconds, of a conversation at the Oval Office about a speech Palme made about the war a year later, have been deleted from the tape recording. The deletion was attributed to “national security” but in light of the fact that Nixon called Palme “that Swedish asshole” the 22 seconds could also be full of profanities.
Just months before Palme made his most critical speech about the Vietnam War, Nixon, Kissinger and George Bush Senior together with William Rogers who was the Secretary of State, had been discussing a hijacking of a plane that had taken place in Sweden when the President suddenly exclaimed “I wish they had taken the prime minister!” On the tape, only one of the assembled laughs at this joke and that is George Bush. Apart from this there are only 37 references to Sweden in the 14 900 conversations recorded during the period Richard Nixon taped all the goings-on in the Oval Office for posterity.
If you visit the White House you will see a famous portrait of George Washington that his contemporaries felt was the best in “truthfulness and accuracy” . It was painted in 1794 by Adolf Ulric Wertmüller (1715 - 1811), a Swede. He was a relative of Alexander Roslin, who was the greatest portrait painter of his time, and a student of the sculptor and draftsman Johan Tobias Sergel. The original portrait of Washington actually hangs in the Metropolitan in New York, so what you see in the White House is a replica. Wertmüller initially stayed in the U.S. for two years. He later returned to get married and buy a farm in the Delaware Valley on Naaman’s Creek in what had once been the New Sweden colony. The artist’s breakthrough had come when the Swedish ambassador in Paris had bought his Ariadne in Naxos, that can now be seen at the National Gallery in Stockholm together with his Dana and the Golden Rain that was donated to the Swedish museum by its American owner because the nudity in it was considered to be pornographic and it was consequently rejected by American museums. The Swedish ambassador who had bought Wertmüller’s painting was Gustaf Philip Creutz who together with Benjamin Franklin had signed the historic treaty of friendship and commerce between Sweden and the United States of America in 1783. It is interesting to note that the two countries had about the same population of three million at the time, although the United States only included its white citizens in its population figures.