The 1880s are generally described as the decade of Realism in Swedish art. Many artists were now portraying everyday subjects that they painted without any idealisation. It became popular to portray the existence of manual labourers. Paintings of farmhands and fishermen were common, as were images of people belonging to the new urban working class. Schultzberg’s painting of demolition work in Stockholm is typical of 1880s Realism. The artist has chosen a subject that can hardly be considered beautiful in the traditional sense. Schultzberg has taken great care to capture the sharp daylight of early spring, the finely nuanced shades in the gravel and stones and the dust that billows around.
Swedish painters encountered artistic Realism in Paris, where many young Nordic artists travelled to study and work during the 1870s and 1880s. However, Schultzberg had not yet been to France when he painted Demolishing the Old Orphanage, Stockholm. He completed the painting during his final year at the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm and unveiled it at the academy’s student exhibition in 1886. French Realism had in fact already been introduced to Stockholm, and Schultzberg had certainly taken inspiration from the Swedish Realists who exhibited paintings they had completed in France at exhibitions in Stockholm in the 1880s.