Installation view of the ‘Tom of Finland – Bold Journey’ exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki, 2023 Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

Editorial: Recognitions and Re-recognitions. The Homecoming of Finland’s Most Famous Artist

Leevi Haapala, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma


22 August, 2023


Tom of Finland is renowned for his signature style and iconic drawings of modern, liberated gay men. In April 2023, the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma / Finnish National Gallery opened its exhibition ‘Bold Journey’, along with an accompanying publication, highlighting the artist’s long artistic career and impact on 20th-century visual culture, particularly on iconic representations of hypermasculinity. Driven by pleasure – that of the artist, the figures in the drawings, and the audience – Tom of Finland’s imagination is embedded in shifting identities and role-play.

Nowadays, Tom of Finland, aka Touko Laaksonen (1920–91), justifiably carries the epithet of ‘Finland’s most internationally famous artist’. However, from the 1950s to the 1970s, he was known in Helsinki only as Touko Laaksonen, a talented graphic artist, working as an advertising executive at McCann Erickson, and a musician who had studied at the Sibelius Academy. It was only late in his life, while shuttling between Helsinki and Los Angeles, that he began appearing in public as the famed gay icon Tom of Finland and not until the early 1990s onwards that he started to gain recognition, both in Finland and elsewhere, explicitly as an artist rather than just a homoerotic illustrator. California’s balmy weather, the abundance of male models, and the Tom House leatherman community offered Tom a welcoming winter sanctuary, while in summer he returned to work in the peace, privacy and natural beauty of his homeland.

It was not until the very end of his career that Tom finally gained artistic recognition in his homeland. His memorial retrospective was held at Galerie Pelin in Helsinki in 1992. At the time, the Museum of Contemporary Art acquired two drawings from that show, which paved the way to Tom’s public acceptance, as did Ilppo Pohjola’s documentary film Daddy and the Muscle Academy the previous year. Little by little, Tom progressed from ‘gay artist’ to ‘artist’ until finally wider audiences were ready to call him their own.

Until the 1990s, the Finnish public had seen Tom’s drawings mostly only in comics exhibitions within the arts scene. In 1990, he received the Puupäähattu Award for Finnish Comics Artists, and later that year his drawings were featured in a comics exhibition organised by the Artists’ Association MUU. In its special ‘sex’ issue, the Finnish magazine Image (3/1990) published an extensive illustrated article, quoting an interview published earlier that year in Prätkäposti (Biker Mail). From October to December 1991, original illustrations from the Kake and Mike comic strips series were presented in Ruutujen aika. Suomen Sarjakuvaseuran kaksi vuosikymmentä (Frames: Two Decades of the Finnish Comics Society) at the Amos Anderson Art Museum in Helsinki. Also that year, two of Tom’s drawings appeared as examples of Finnish underground comics in Koko hajanainen kuva. Suomalaisen taiteen 80-luku (The Whole Fragmentary Picture: Finnish Art in the Eighties), a 1991 book by Marja-Terttu Kivirinta and Leena-Maija Rossi, designed by Ilppo Pohjola.

Major public recognition followed in 1992, after the Finnish publishing house Otava published the extensive biography, written by F. Valentine Hooven III, Tom of Finland – Elämäkerta (Biography, translated into Finnish by Eeva-Liisa Jaakkola).[1] In 2017, it was republished by another Finnish publishing house, Like, with a new foreword and subtitled Marginaalista maailmanmaineeseen (‘From the Margins to World Fame’).[2] In the original biography, Tom is referred to only by his pseudonym, never by his real name. In a letter to his friend, written from Laakso hospital in 1991, Tom aired his thoughts on the flurry of fame that came to him in the twilight of his career:

That same scribbler Valentine Hooven was here for the second time around midsummer. He is writing my biography, which will be published in Finnish by OTAVA in the New Year. A video about me will be released around the same time. They also want to organise a ‘real art exhibition’ of my drawings in Helsinki – suddenly everyone is going wild about me. How times have changed! Or have they?
 – Tom of Finland’s letter to his friend in Helsinki, 9 July 1991

Archival findings and cultivating our national artist’s legacy

One key resource for the Kiasma exhibition was an archive that was donated in 2001, with additional material added in 2005, to the Finnish National Gallery’s Archival Collections by one of Touko Laaksonen’s long-time friends, who wished to remain anonymous. The archive contains letters, cards, newspaper clippings, photos, videos, magazines, books and calendars. A curator of the Archival Collections, Veikko Pakkanen, reminded me in person about this specific archive before retiring. To our delight, the current exhibition’s curatorial team – myself, chief curator João Laia and project manager Patrik Nyberg – came across four original works of art among this large volume of material. The drawings are now in the process of being added to the art collection, so that there will be 13 Tom of Finland drawings held by the Finnish National Gallery. We are also still confirming the authenticity of two more photographic collages from this archive, to be authorised by the Tom of Finland Foundation.

This important change in the status of archival material is part of the recognition of Tom of Finland’s originals as one entity within the art collection. Already in the winter of 2022, five of the artist’s drawings, which for several years had been on long-term loan from the HIV Foundation Finland, were purchased and added to the National Gallery’s collections at Kiasma. It is of key importance that finally Tom of Finland’s artworks are recognised and respected and not seen as comics or categorised as archival documents; that they belong to the core contemporary art collection at the Finnish National Gallery, and that he is our national artist. In this way these works become more easily accessible to scholars, curators and to the multiple audiences of our online collections and our forthcoming exhibitions. This final change in his artistic legacy was also recognised in the recent Frieze art review about the exhibition and encapsulated in its title ‘Tom of Finland Hitches a Ride into the Mainstream’, by Harry Tafoya.[3]

Scholarly queer re-recognitions

In this issue of FNG Research we republish one of the new articles in Bold Journey, which was published together with Parvs Publishing: ’Boys will be boys? – Some Notes on Tom of Finland’, written by adjunct curator at Tate and Contributing Editor for Frieze Alvin Li. In his article Li emphasises the notion of Tom of Finland’s legacy for new generations. Li was born in 1993, two years after Tom passed away, and tries to recall the moment when he most likely first encountered Tom of Finland’s drawings – which were in the form of digital reproductions on Tumblr. Tom’s imagery can be also criticised on the basis of the images’ ‘(over)performance of homomasculinity’ or their commercial merchandise potential. There has also been increasing recognition of the widening scope of sexualities since the early 1990s. Li summarises both the progress of feminist and queer scholarly work undertaken so far but also the potentiality of the bodily truth of gay desire in Tom of Finland’s drawings. Parallel realities among LGBTIQ+ communities and generations can find different ways and reasons to identify with his imagery or at least to recognise the value of his emancipatory impact and human rights work among minorities over the decades.

Alongside the Tom of Finland exhibition at Kiasma is a new collection display, ‘Dreamy’, guest-curated by Max Hannus, which focusses on queer perspectives on the Kiasma collections at the Finnish National Gallery. In their article ‘Entry to a Land that Is Not’, Hannus gives curatorial insights about the process of getting to know our collections from this point of view. For some years now, we have been keeping three-option statistics on the gender of artists. In their essay, Hannus likes to find a specific time category named as queer time as a key to understanding the thematics of the show and as a point of entry into the collections: “‘Dreamy’ is an exhibition where dreams, fantasies, nightmares, visions, and scenes are seen as signs of queerness existing in the world and of the potential for sharing, finding common ground. How has art documented queer time over time? And how can we, as viewers of art, find entry to something we couldn’t even dream of? Queer time opposes itself to the linear time of order. It is outside chronology, another reality and parallel to straight time.’

During the Covid-19 pandemic Kiasma was celebrating 30 years of collecting contemporary art for the Finnish National Gallery’s Collection and published a collection book entitled The Many Forms of Contemporary Art. For that book I researched Kiasma’s international collection and how it has been formed over the years. In my article, which we republish in this issue of FNG Research, I summarise the geographies, the developments in arts, and also different collections within the overall collection, as well as the link between the exhibition programme and the profile of the international art collection, which go hand in hand. I wrote that still the key question concerns how we understand our own time: ‘A collection of contemporary art lives with the changing world. Our national collection is being built in relation to the international art field around the world, yet from a given location. The planet has shrunk as a consequence of travel and the internet. The primary aim of the collection is not to fill an art-historical canon, but rather, to actively shape it and be prepared to tell stories of our own time.’

[1] The book was published in English in 1993 by St Martin’s Press, New York, with a title Tom of Finland: His Life and Times.

[2] Translated into English from F. Valentine Hooven III’s original text Tom of Finland – Life and Work of a Gay Hero.

[3] See

Featured image: Installation view of the ‘Tom of Finland – Bold Journey’ exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki, 2023
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

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Elina Brotherus, Nu montant un escalator, 2017, single-channel video, duration 3min 30sec Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Photo: Finnish National Gallery

A Journey along Kiasma’s International Collection

Leevi Haapala, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma

Also published in Saara Hacklin, Kati Kivinen and Satu Oksanen (eds.), The Many Forms of Contemporary Art. The Kiasma Collection Book. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 175/2022. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, 2022, p. 51–59. Transl. Anna Rawlings

Contemporary art cannot be considered without international exchange. For its part, such interaction renews both the content of art itself and the activity of the art field. The Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma has, since its founding, focused on collecting both Finnish and international contemporary art. Art purchases reflect topical issues, they speak of the museum’s activity and values in a changing art world. The collection profile of Kiasma, as part of the collections of the Finnish National Gallery, is linked with recognition of contemporaneity. What comprises contemporaneity in today’s world? How do we recognise the factors, artists, and artworks that renew art and society? I will expand on these issues in the second part of my article, through some chosen artwork ensembles.

Summarising the history of the collection

In Kiasma, the collection is expanded in relation to the museum’s exhibition activity and programme: international solo exhibitions, the ARS exhibitions showcasing the international trends of contemporary art, as well as different thematic ensembles, of which collection exhibitions are a central part. Collection purchases reveal the international role of the museum. Pieces purchased from the museum’s own exhibitions have a research history, and they have become familiar to our audiences. Such pieces beloved by the audience include, for example, Christian Skeel and Morten Skriver’s scent vases, Babylon (1996), Jacob Dahlgren’s colourful ribbon piece The Wonderful World of Abstraction (2009), Ken Feingold’s interactive sculpture Head (1999–2000), whispering its strange secrets, as well as Wolfgang Laib’s Milkstone (1978–83).

The collection’s geographical area was sketched in widening circles: from Finland to the Nordic Countries, the Baltic States, Russia, as well as Europe and the United States. Later, the independence of the Baltic States, the strengthening of the contemporary art field, and the new agents in contemporary art in the area have helped enlarge the view. Today, the museum emphasises the interaction of local and global culture: art is purchased across national and geographical borders. Nevertheless, areas neighbouring Finland have remained as topics of interest. The 100th anniversary of the first independence of the Baltic States in 2018 encouraged us to update our relationship with the art of the Baltic area, and the collection has been complemented with pieces from a number of rising artists from our neighbouring areas.

Different continents have been emphasised at different times through collection purchases from temporary exhibitions: Latin American countries, such as Brazil or Chile, have been represented through the exhibitions of Cildo Meireles, Dias & Riedweg, Ernesto Neto, and Alfredo Jaar. The art of Sub-Saharan Africa was examined in the ARS11 exhibition. Art from Northeast and South-East Asia was purchased from the ‘Wind from the East’ and ‘Drawn in the Clouds’ exhibitions, from Thailand, Japan, and Indonesia, and artists such as Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook, Chiharu Shiota, and Melati Suryodarmo. These are complemented by installations acquired from the solo exhibitions of the Thai artist Korakrit Arunanondchai, as well as Choi Jeong Hwa from South Korea. The ARS exhibitions have created an opportunity for producing commissioned pieces and making international purchases.

Featured image: Elina Brotherus, Nu montant un escalator, 2017, single-channel video, duration 3min 30sec. Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Photo: Finnish National Gallery

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Jacolby Satterwhite, En Plein Air: Music of Objective Romance: Track #1 Healing in My House, 2016, video, duration 9min 27sec Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Photo: Finnish National Gallery

Entry to a Land that Is Not

Max Hannus, MFA, freelance curator, writer with an interest in the interfaces of desire, human relationships and the making of art

Transl. Soili Petäjäniemi

My life was a burning illusion. But one thing I have found and one thing I have really won – the road to the land that is not.
Edith Södergran[1]

I’m passing time and dreaming. In my dreams I become attuned to another kind of reality for a moment. I imagine another time which I call the future. Something is coming.

‘Dreamy’ is an exhibition where dreams, fantasies, nightmares, visions, and scenes are seen as signs of queerness existing in the world and of the potential for sharing, finding common ground. How has art documented queer time over time? And how can we, as viewers of art, find entry to something we couldn’t even dream of? Queer time opposes itself to the linear time of order. It is outside chronology, another reality and parallel to straight time.[2] Artworks created in various decades settle in their unique ways into queer time, where they trace and create new dreams and seek pleasure. ‘Dreamy’ is a collection drawn from queer time.



For the exhibition I went through almost 9,000 pieces in the collection of the Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. As I was looking through the collection, I thought about why certain works caught my attention, while others did not. On what grounds was I choosing the pieces for ‘Dreamy’? I mulled over the question of when an artwork can be considered queer. I set as a point of departure that queerness is life as lived rather than a particular visuality – that an artwork is not queer unless it relates to the experiences of the artist and the social conditions in which the artist operates. I thought it is important to reflect on the positions of the artist and the different crossroads at which the works are constructed.

While studying the collection I also considered different questions concerning representation. Which artists’ works can be found in the collection and which artists are omitted? Who has more works there, who less? I observed that a large percentage of the artists included in the collection whom I recognised as living queer lives were homosexual men, or assumed by me to be so. There were considerably fewer women represented, as were the non-binary identities. The Finnish National Gallery’s statistics follow three options on the gender of artists, but listing is a tricky business because it begs the question: what criteria are used in making the list and how often is it revised? Is it, for instance, relevant to document statistically the gender of artists who have already died, if they themselves were never asked how they identified in terms of gender?

[1] Edith Södergran. ‘The Land That Is Not’, in Complete Poems. Newcastle: Bloodaxe Books, 1984 (1925). Transl. David McDuff. The author’s reference is to the poem ‘Maa jota ei ole’ (1925). Transl. Uuno Kailas.

[2] José Esteban Muñoz. Cruising Utopia. The Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York: New York University Press, 2009, 25.

Featured image: Jacolby Satterwhite, En Plein Air: Music of Objective Romance: Track #1 Healing in My House, 2016, video, duration 9min 27sec. Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Photo: Finnish National Gallery

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Tom of Finland, Untitled, 1980, pencil on paper, 42cm x 30cm Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

Boys Will Be Boys? Some Notes on Tom of Finland

Alvin Li, writer, curator, Shanghai and London

Also published in Leevi Haapala, João Laia and Jari-Pekka Vanhala (eds.), Tom of Finland – Bold Journey. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 178/2023. Helsinki: Parvs and Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, 2023, p. 63–67

If I don’t have a hard-on, it’s no good.
Tom of Finland

I must open my essay with a confession: before taking on this commission, I had never considered myself a fan of Tom of Finland. Not a real fan, that is, in the sense of someone who would have studied his biography, taken notes on some of the collections, public and private, that house his work – travelled to see them, even – purchased prints (well, ideally originals) to hang at home; and learned all the gossip about his lovers and fetishes, as I now have. Worse, I cannot even remember my first encounter with his drawings. If I had to take a wild guess, I suppose it might have been in the form of digital reproductions on Tumblr sites in the mid-noughties, when I was in junior high school, posted in between gifs of ejaculating male bodies and vintage porn stills. Did I ever jerk off to Tom’s men? I’m honestly not sure.

This amnesia I have just described, the inability to retrieve the memory of a first encounter, is not mine alone. When I started doing research for this piece I sent out a questionnaire to a dozen of my favourite queer writers and artists across a few different generations. Among the Generation X interviewees, a common reference was a cowboy T-shirt produced by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren in 1975 – though, as later critics have pointed out, the image printed on that T-shirt was not in fact one of Tom’s, but a piece by artist and photographer Jim French.[1] But among peers of my age group (I was born in 1993), the memory gets increasingly blurry. Some similarly cited Tumblr posts they saw back in high school, while a queer zine editor referred to magazines, though was unable to recall the exact title. One possible reason for this inability to recall our earliest acquaintance with Tom’s aesthetic resides in its iconic status, which by the time of my coming to terms with my homosexuality had thoroughly penetrated and reshaped the representation of men, gay and straight alike, across the mainstream and in subcultures. There are pros and cons to this. On one hand, there’s a bit of Tom’s man everywhere in visual culture, from the aesthetics of 1980s bands like Frankie Goes to Hollywood to the boys hanging out in your neighbourhood gay bar. The downside is, compared to the early, post-war decades when his work started circulating, whether as covers of Physique Pictorial or as comic books, one’s first impression of Tom’s work today is more likely tainted by a speck of familiarity than an experience of utter shock and engrossing infatuation.

[1] Jim French. ‘The Myth of the Cowboy T-Shirt’, in Dian Hanson (ed.), Tom of Finland: XXL. Cologne: Taschen, 2009.

Featured image: Tom of Finland, Untitled, 1980, pencil on paper,
42cm x 30cm. Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

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Lars-Gunnar Nordström, Blue Moment, 1948–49, colour woodcut, 26.5cm x 40cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

Editorial: Fresh Insights from a New Look at our National Collections

Marja Sakari, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum


3 April, 2023


As I write this Editorial, the Ateneum Art Museum is about to reopen. Following a year of renovation work the museum will look different; in addition to replacing the entire air-conditioning system, we have renovated the public spaces in the basement with a new-look museum shop and other services in the court area, a new toilet area and newly organised tickethall. The grand staircase has been repainted and cleaned; the Ateneum auditorium has a new technical equipment and the workshop a new interior design.

This renovation period also gave us the opportunity to rework the collection display and we reopen the museum with our new collection exhibition ‘A Question of Time’. This thematic display aims to challenge the way in which the collection of the Finnish National Gallery has traditionally been viewed. Instead of the usual chronological approach, ‘A Question of Time’ presents the collection through four themes – The Age of Nature, Images of a People, Modern Life and Art and Power – that range across different eras and draw on today’s burning issues. There are questions hovering in the background. How has the Ateneum collection been built up over the years? How can it be a collection for everyone? In this edition of FNG Research we present the collection display through the lens of an interview with Anne-Maria Pennonen and Mariia Niskavaara, the two curators of the theme The Age of Nature which we have chosen as the most urgent issue of our time to be foregrounded in ‘A Question of Time’.

A new biography in English about the art and life of Helene Schjerfbeck also challenges the traditional view of one of Finland’s most beloved artists. Art historian Marja Lahelma’s online book Helene Schjerfbeck: An Artist’s Life is published alongside this edition of FNG Research.

Our spring edition highlights two exhibition projects, namely the upcoming Albert Edelfelt exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum and the current exhibition and research project on Alexander Lauréus, held at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum. Two articles are dedicated to Edelfelt. First, in ‘A Discovered Painting: Albert Edelfelts Study for Woman from Arles, the art historian Laura Gutman spotlights a painting that was not known before and had not been mentioned in Bertel Hintze’s authoritative catalogue raisonné. In her complementary article, ‘How Albert Edelfelt’s Portrait of Mme Dani Turned into Study for Woman from Arles, Tuulikki Kilpinen analyses the same painting from the conservator’s viewpoint.

Turning to the Sinebrychoff Art Museum’s programme, Gill Crabbe sheds light on a project that led to the current exhibition of Alexander Lauréus, in an interview with the curators Ira Westergård and Lotta Nylund, whose doctoral thesis on Lauréus has been the research base for the show.

The philosophical questions behind conservation and restoration form the subject of Ari Tanhuanpää’s article ‘On the Will of Preservation’, also in this issue. The concerns he contemplates are especially pertinent today, not least when the cultural heritage of Ukraine is being destroyed in the wake of hideous war.

While Ari Tanhuanpää’s article differs in subject from Tuulikki Kilpinen’s, both underline different aspects of the importance of conservation. Kilpinen’s case study shows how essential it can be to collaborate with art historians in the process of authenticating an artwork. Together with Laura Gutman’s research we can now prove that the painting sold in 2019 at an auction in Paris is an authentic work by Albert Edelfelt. In addition, the painting, which was earlier considered to be a portrait of Mme Dani, is in fact a study (1891–93) for Edelfelt’s painting Woman from Arles (1893).

Tanhuanpää’s philosophical and deep pondering upon the meaning and premises of conservation is an important statement for the preservation of culture in general. In introducing the ideas of Cesare Brandi, who bases his thinking on semiotics and phenomenology, Tanhuanpää points to the importance of considering an artwork as more than its materials and how it should thus be safeguarded. The art object remains self-identical across time, even if damaged by time. And it is just there that conservation is needed, to maintain the authenticity and originality of the object’s ontological essence. It means preserving an artwork’s pure form. This, according to Tanhuanpää, is a paradox as artworks are mostly materials and a conservator is dealing mainly with materials. But while taking care of its materials, a conservator succeeds at the same time in maintaining the essence of the piece. From there comes the imperative to maintain the materials for as long as possible. Tanhuanpää discusses whether the Kantian categorical imperative from which Brandi derives his thinking can be applied to conservation.

When I read the interview with Mariia Niskavaara and Anne-Maria Pennonen alongside Ari Tanhuanpää’s article, somehow they seem to be connected. Both address the meaning of safeguarding art, to make us remember and but also to make us witnesses in time. The points both these articles make are basically the same. While conserving artworks we, as humans, have the chance to prevent something spiritually and intellectually invaluable from disappearing, in the same way that with the theme of The Age of Nature, the museum attempts to contribute to activities that could slow down climate change and ultimately avert catastrophe.

Finally, we are delighted to announce the results of the selection process of our two research interns for 2023. We look forward to publishing the outcomings of their research next year.

Featured image: Lars-Gunnar Nordström, Blue Moment, 1948–49, colour woodcut, 26.5cm x 40cm.  Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

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Ferdinand von Wright, Pigs and Magpies, 1875, oil on canvas, 63cm x 83cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

A Question of Time

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

As the Ateneum Art Museum reopens to present its new-look display of its permanent collection, Gill Crabbe discusses its core theme with the curator Anne-Maria Pennonen and doctoral candidate Mariia Niskavaara and asks how they set about their radical approach in viewing its artworks through the lens of today’s urgent world issues 

This spring, if you walk into the Central Hall of the Ateneum Art Museum, the architectural heart of this elegant neoclassical building which houses the Finnish National Gallery’s Ateneum Art Museum collections, you will no longer encounter the grand Golden Age paintings that have long resided there as lauded foundation works in the canon of Finnish art. Gone are the classic monumental canvases of Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Pekka Halonen, and Albert Edelfelt, some to be dispersed across other rooms in the new reworking of the collections display. Instead, in this cream of the Gallery’s exhibition spaces one finds a dynamic mix of works old and new, famous and less well-known, large-scale and small, some iconic in a new way, some charming and some frankly confronting. And their common ground? All are reflecting one of the most urgent issues on today’s world agenda – Nature.

For the age of nature is the age which it is said we are now entering; having traversed at ever-increasing speed the anthropocene, we are now beginning to face a world that places humans and non-humans on a more equal footing, as we start to realise the impact of humans on the non-human world. Thus for the Ateneum Art Museum’s new collections display the theme of The Age of Nature has emerged, following discussions, consultations and copious research, as the central topic alongside three others: Art and Power, Images of a People, and Modern Life. These four themes together provide a lens through which we can view afresh the Gallery’s collections under the umbrella title of the exhibition ‘A Question of Time’.

Since 2016, when the previous reworking of the collections display opened to mark the centenary of Finnish Independence with the theme ‘Stories from Finnish Art’, the world has changed more than we could possibly have imagined, with Covid-19, war in Ukraine, widespread economic recession, the energy crisis and of course climate change. These urgent issues seek expression through an art that not only reflects these changes but more importantly can respond to them, to educate the art-going public, and ultimately to change people’s lives. The Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture’s policy programme for 2030 exhorts museums to do just that: as the Museum’s Director Marja Sakari writes introducing the new collection display in her foreword to the catalogue of the exhibition, ‘(t)he values it sets for museums are community and interactivity, reliability and continuity, pluralism and democracy, courage and open-mindedness […] thereby creating opportunities for creativity, education, identity-building and understanding change’. And one important way to embrace those values is to present the canon of art history through concerns that are pivotal today, because to understand the past is to understand how we reached this point of the present, and to contemplate how we might take our next steps into the future.

So how did the Ateneum Art Museum go about exploring these pressing issues of our time in curating this new display; and more specifically how did the curators of the Central Hall’s theme of The Age of Nature create a display that goes beyond a specific narrative to invite viewers to join a conversation that can have a real impact on their lives and on the world today?

‘Our express purpose in the process has been to critically discuss the canon of Finnish art and radicalise the ways in which our collection is customarily viewed,’ Sakari writes. ‘From the outset, an important factor in the planning of the new collection display was making the curatorial process transparent and opening it to discussion.’ Aligned to this was a need for larger curatorial teams and a fresh look at involving external actors. Accordingly, over the winter of 2021–22, the Museum organised a discussion series, together with the Bildung+ project of the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra (an independent organisation which fosters research and co-operation in building sustainable futures) under the theme of ‘Perspectives on Time and Power’. The purpose was to consider how the Finnish National Gallery’s art collections can be viewed from the perspectives of climate crisis, identity and equality.

Featured image: Ferdinand von Wright, Pigs and Magpies, 1875, oil on canvas, 63cm x 83cm
Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen
Public domain. This image of a work of art is released under a CC0 licence, and can be freely used because the copyright (70 full calendar years after the death of the artist) has expired.

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Helene Schjerfbeck, c. 1895 Photographer unknown Archived Photo Prints. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery Photo: Finnish National Gallery

Helene Schjerfbeck – An Artist’s Life

Marja Lahelma, PhD, art historian

In the past decade, Helene Schjerfbeck, one of Finland’s most celebrated artists, has received increasing international recognition, yet her biographies have been available only in Finnish and Swedish. Now art historian Marja Lahelma reassesses the painter’s life and oeuvre in this first biography published in English. We hope that in publishing this book online, this project initiated by the Ateneum Art Museum will meet the growing demand from professional enthusiasts keen to find out more about this innovative artist who boldly followed her own path towards modernism.

Marja Lahelma: Helene Schjerfbeck – An Artist’s Life

Publisher Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki,  2023
Editor-in-Chief Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff
Editor and Picture Editor Hanna-Leena Paloposki
Language Revision Gill Crabbe
Graphic Design Lagarto / Jaana Jäntti and Arto Tenkanen
Copyright Authors and the Finnish National Gallery
ISBN 978-952-7371-63-3 (pdf)
ISSN 2343-0850 (FNG Research)

Table of Contents

Early Years
  • Childhood
  • An Art Student in Helsinki
  • An Artistic Debut
In the Big Wide World
  • À Paris!
  • Finistère
  • Boulevards and Ateliers
  • St Ives
Artistic Transformation
  • In the Footsteps of the Old Masters
  • Endings and New Beginnings
  • A Room of Her Own
  • Towards Synthesis
The Modernist
  • The ‘Renaissance’
  • Friends and Promoters
  • The First Solo Exhibition
Surface and Depth
  • Materials and Inspirations
  • The Painter of Modern Life
  • Variations and Reinterpretations
Grand Finale and Afterlife
  • The Second World War
  • The Late Self-Portraits
  • Life After Death

Featured image: Helene Schjerfbeck, c. 1895
Photographer unknown
Archived Photo Prints. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery
Photo: Finnish National Gallery

Read more — Download ‘Helene Schjerfbeck – An Artist’s Life’ (ISBN 978-952-7371-63-3), by Marja Lahelma, as a PDF 

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Albert Edelfelt, Study for Woman from Arles, 1891–93, oil on canvas, 41.5cm x 32cm Albert Edelfelt Association, Paris Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

A Discovered Painting: Albert Edelfelt’s Study for Woman from Arles

Laura Gutman, Diploma of Advanced Research of the Ecole du Louvre, art historian, independent curator

On 22 November 2019, the Albert Edelfelt Association[1] bought a portrait in an auction organised by Morand & Morand at the Hôtel Drouot, in Paris. The painting, which had remained in France since its creation, was not listed in Bertel Hintze’s catalogue raisonné of the Finnish artist Albert Edelfelt (1854–1905), which serves as the authoritative reference book on the artist. The oil painting was described as a portrait of Marie Félicité Dani, wife of Francis de Saint-Vidal, and signed Albert Edelfelt. The indication of provenance was the Dani family estate.[2]

As the work was not catalogued, a material and historical study was undertaken to ensure its authenticity, as well as ascertaining its place in the painter’s oeuvre. In April 2021, when travel became possible again after the Covid-19 pandemic, the painting was brought to Finland to be conserved and studied by Tuulikki Kilpinen, a member of the Albert Edelfelt research team.[3]

This essay retraces the historical research, from false leads to coincidences, that made it possible to retrieve the painting into Albert Edelfelt’s production. It leads to and sheds light on another little-studied work by the artist, preserved in Finland. The two paintings are being reunited on the occasion of the Ateneum Art Museum’s Albert Edelfelt exhibition in the spring of 2023.

False leads and valuable information

The investigation of the model and her husband in the early stages of the research yielded some more information. Marie Félicité Dani (1864–1950) was a sought-after model, who posed for several artists. In 1895, she married Francis Porral de Saint-Vidal (1840–1900), a renowned French academic sculptor who exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Français between 1875 and 1898.

The talent of Saint-Vidal had already been noticed in 1865 by Alexandre Dumas fils. The writer introduced the young sculptor to his renowned friend Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827–75), who became his professor. Saint-Vidal was indebted to Carpeaux’s neo-rococo style and is considered his follower. He produced several portraits of celebrities (e.g. Ludvig van Beethoven, Hector Berlioz, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, and the soprano Jeanne Granier), works which were appreciated for their expressive power, as well as a monument dedicated to the painter Alphonse de Neuville (1889).[4]

Originally based in Bordeaux, Francis de Saint-Vidal was an elected member of the National Academy of Science, Literature and Fine Arts of Bordeaux from 1876 until 1882, when he moved to Paris. The Five Parts of the World, a monumental fountain placed under the Eiffel Tower during the World Fair of 1889, was the breakthrough for the artist, who was rewarded with a bronze medal. He exhibited for the last time in 1898 and died in 1900 in Riom; Marie Félicité Dani was his widow.[5]

The name of Saint-Vidal was forgotten after his bronze monuments were melted down during the German occupation to be reused in the Second World War. A marble fountain placed in Setif, in Algeria, has been vandalised in recent years for its depiction of female nudity. The loss has ultimately created a renewed interest in this forgotten sculptor.[6]

The private life of Saint-Vidal had been quite turbulent. Married in Bordeaux in 1869 to Mathilde Hernozant, he divorced her in 1890. He lived in an open relationship with Irma Antoinette Delmas, and also with Anna-Marie Tréouret de Kerstrat[7]. Children were born from each union.

Marie Félicité Dani and Francis Porral de Saint-Vidal were married on 29 June 1895 at the French Consulate in Florence. Their marriage was registered at the end of the year in Nice[8], the city of her birth. The desire to avoid scandal may explain these circumstances, the two spouses being divorced. Marie Félicité Dani had divorced Louis-Zacharie Dalaise in 1894, with whom she had two children.

The initial hypothesis of a link between Saint-Vidal and Edelfelt, as suggested by the auction house when revealing the painting, was misleading. There seems to have been no connection between the two artists other than their common appreciation of the beauty of Marie Félicité Dani. It is unclear how the painting entered the family estate, whether it was a gift or a purchase due to the quality of the portrait.

[1] The Albert Edelfelt Association has been set up in Paris by the French relatives of Albert Edelfelt, descended from the Swedish line of the artist’s father, Carl Albert Edelfelt. Dedicated to improving the knowledge and appreciation of the art and life of Albert Edelfelt, it reaches out to, among others, the French-speaking audience on the internet: (accessed 18 February 2023).

[2] Morand & Morand, Commissaires-priseurs [auctioneer], Drouot, Vente intérieurs parisiens, 22 November 2019, lot 109.

[3] See Tuulikki Kilpinen’s article ‘How Albert Edelfelt’s Portrait of Mme Dani  turned out to be Study for Woman from Arles’ in this same issue 1/2023 of FNG Research, The Edelfelt research team – Edelfelt expert, art historian Marina Catani, specialist scientist Seppo Hornytzkyj and conservator Tuulikki Kilpinen – has studied Albert Edelfelt’s artworks many times during the past decades and also published articles on their research.

[4] Prosper Georges Marcelin Bouniceau-Gesmon. M. F. de Saint-Vidal et sa fontaine, étude critique. Paris: Alphonse Lemerre Editeur, 1889.

[5] Registre des décès [Death Register] [6 E 3253]. Archives départementales du Puy-de-Dôme, (accessed 10 May 2022).

[6] Armand Vial. La Belle de la source. Alger: Tafat Editions, 2021.

[7] I am grateful to the sculptor Laurent Davidson for information on his great-grandfather. Laurent Davidson’s email to the author, 9 May 2022.

[8] Registre des mariages [Wedding Register], Nice 1895. Archives départementales des Alpes-Maritimes, (accessed 15 May 2022).

Featured image: Albert Edelfelt, Study for Woman from Arles, 1891–93, oil on canvas, 41.5cm x 32cm
Albert Edelfelt Association, Paris
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

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An ultraviolet image of Albert Edelfelt’s Portrait of a Woman, showing the fluorescence of organic red lake in the red areas and zinc white composed of inorganic pigments in the yellow areas. The pink colour of the skin is a mix of several pigments, of which fluorescence occurs only in red lake and zinc white Photo: Tuulikki Kilpinen

How Albert Edelfelt’s Portrait of Mme Dani Turned into Study for Woman from Arles

Tuulikki Kilpinen, independent conservator


A small oil painting, which was auctioned in Paris at the Hôtel Drout on 22 November 2019, arrived from France at my studio in the spring of 2021 for authentification and conservation at the request of the new owner, the Albert Edelfelt Association in Paris and its president Sven Edelfelt. The notes accompanying the sale cited the auction catalogue of Morand & Morand, and Lot no. 109 was a portrait of Mme Marie Félicité Dani (1864–1950), the wife of French sculptor Francis de Saint-Vidal, painted by the Finnish artist Albert Edelfelt (1854–1905). The provenance was the family estate.[1] The work appeared to be in poor condition and to have been neglected. It is not included in the catalogue raisonné of Albert Edelfelt compiled by art historian Bertel Hintze (in Finnish 1953) and there was no sketch that resembled it in the sketchbooks. At the auction the painting was dated as 1884.

A research team was gathered to study the painting. This included the art historian and Edelfelt specialist Marina Catani, a specialist researcher in pigment analysis Seppo Hornytzkyj and myself as an expert in painting techniques and materials. The team had worked together earlier on other Edelfelt paintings.[2] The art historian Laura Gutman joined the team to study the French archives. Each of us had our own specialty, but we all needed more biographical information about Mme Dani, the painting, and her sculptor husband from France. Research on artworks usually begins with art-historical studies on the provenance with the aid of archival material. In this case, however, there were inconsistencies in the work’s provenance information and in the messages gleaned from its materials. Thus, at the request of the owner, the team agreed to begin first with the conservation, contrary to its usual procedure. We had to find a link connecting the supposed model with Albert Edelfelt’s life and works. The varied research photos were of no use to begin with[3]. Our work started in May 2021.

In this article, I present the material and technical research that we have carried out and show how some parts of the missing art-historical information can be supplemented with this kind of research, applying the methodology of technical art history[4]. I also compare the artwork under study with other works by Edelfelt that the Edelfelt research team had previously studied, namely Queen Bianca (1877) and Portrait of the Opera Singer Aino Ackté (1901), as well as a new study for Portrait of Zachris Topelius (1889). While our research was underway Laura Gutman studied French archival sources and was able to shed new light on the owner and the provenance information, as well as on the date of the studied painting as described in her article ‘A Discovered Painting: Albert Edelfelt’s Study for Woman from Arles’.[5] As a result, the date of the painting was first shifted to 1895–97, and then pinpointed to 1891, based on various written sources.

Thanks to further research, both Marina Catani and Laura Gutman could connect the painting under study with Edelfelt’s Woman from Arles (1893), which resides in the collection of Tampere Art Museum. That is why I have also examined that work and compare it with the painting under study. In this paper I use the title Portrait of a Woman to denote the painting which was sold as a portrait of Mme Dani, until our research found it to be the study for Woman from Arles. I will show how the research carried out by the Edelfelt research team reveals the painting technique and materials that connect the work with Albert Edelfelt’s production.

[1] Text in the auction catalogue: ‘Portrait de Marie Félicité Dani, (1864-1950) épouse de Francis de Saint-Vidal, de profil. / Huile sur toile, signée vers le bas à droite /41.5cm x 32cm. / (Accident visible en bas, à gauche / Trace de clous visibles sur les bordures gauche et supérieure) / […] Provenance: descendance de Marie Félicité DANI épouse de Francis de SAINT VIDAL et resté dans la famille depuis l’origine.’

[2] The Edelfelt Studio Practice Team (Catani, Hornytzkyj & Kilpinen) was active in the years 1998–2005 at the Finnish National Gallery. They compiled a database of 14 paintings by Albert Edelfelt, of which 5 are published: Tuulikki Kilpinen. ‘Metamorphosis on a canvas: a painting process reconstructed by literary and pictorial sources and material study’, in Conservare Necesse est. Festkrift till Leif Plahters på hans 70-årsdag. Oslo: IIC Nordic Group, 1999, 176–85; Tuulikki Kilpinen. ‘Impressionismin imussa, tutkimus Albert Edelfeltin Pariisin Luxembourgin puistosta – maalauksesta’, in Kirsi Kaisla (ed.), Edelfelt Pariisissa. Turun taidemuseon julkaisuja 2/2001 – Tikanojan taidekodin julkaisuja 2/2001. Turku: Turun taidemuseo, 2001; Tuulikki Kilpinen. ‘Modulations sur la toile: La Reine Blanche d’Albert Edelfelt’, in Pierre Curie (ed. and trans. in French), Histoire de l’art, 50, 2002, 65–76; Tuulikki Kilpinen and Marina Catani. ‘Kaleidoscopic exuberance and colour ascetism: Edelfelt’s portrait of Ackté, 1901’, in Ashok Roy & Perry Smith (eds.), Modern Art, New Museums. Bilbao: IIC Guggenheim Museum, 2004, 129–32; Tuulikki Kilpinen and Marina Catani. ‘Ou est l’enfant? Pinnan alle – Albert Edelfetin Lapsen ruumissaatto, 1879’, in Erkki Anttonen (ed.), Edelfelt: Matkoja, maisemia ja naamiaisia. Helsinki: WSOY, 2004, 31–50.

[3] The imaging concerned (VIS = visible radiation) from the front and reverse in both symmetrical and raking light, ultraviolet and infrared radiation with a Nikon 600 digital system camera, date 1–3 June 2021.

[4] An introduction to technical art history (in Finnish): Tuulikki Kilpinen. ‘Rantamaiseman tapaus’, in Auli Martiskainen (ed.), Elämän jälkiä, ikoneja. Konservaattori Helena Nikkasen juhlakirja. Heinävesi: Lintulan luostari, 2015, 137–48.

[5] See the mentioned article in FNG Research 1/2023,

Featured image: An ultraviolet image of Albert Edelfelt’s Portrait of a Woman, showing the fluorescence of organic red lake in the red areas and zinc white composed of inorganic pigments in the yellow areas. The pink colour of the skin is a mix of several pigments, of which fluorescence occurs only in red lake and zinc white
Photo: Tuulikki Kilpinen

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Retouching a painting at the Conservation Unit of the Finnish National Gallery. Photo: Finnish National Gallery /Jenni Nurminen

On the Will of Preservation

Ari Tanhuanpää, PhD, senior conservator, Finnish National Gallery

An extended version of the paper presented at the 3rd International Artefacta Conference ‘Agency’, University of Turku, Finland, 16–17 February 2023


There are countless artworks and other objects of cultural heritage that have been destroyed, intentionally or unintentionally, over the course of history. This fact seems to call into question the categorical imperative for conservation that Cesare Brandi (1906‒88) put forward in his theory of conservation (Teoria del restauro, 1963). Brandi ‒ an art historian, art theorist, critic, and poet[1] ‒ is one of the most cited names in conservation theory, but this particular issue has received surprisingly little attention among Brandi scholars. Brandi claimed that when an individual encounters an artwork they ‘feel immediately an imperative […] for conservation’.[2] Yet one might ask whether Brandi’s imperative has anything to do with what is happening in the real world or is there a serious flaw in his reasoning?

Cesare Brandi´s Teoria del restauro

It should be noted that Brandi theoretically deals only with artworks in his book, which can be considered a shortcoming.[3] Brandi’s theory of conservation is connected to his art theory, which is based on semiotics and phenomenology; he has been influenced by philosophers such as Benedetto Croce (1866‒1952), Edmund Husserl (1859‒1938), Martin Heidegger (1889‒1976), Jean-Paul Sartre (1905‒80) and Jacques Derrida (1930‒2004).[4] The concept of presence is crucial in it ‒ that is the immediate presence of the artwork that is distinct from the parousia of the factual existence. Brandi underlines that the artwork does not signify: it ‘presentifies’.[5] Regardless of the date of creation of the artwork, it ‘is not given in the past […] [but] in the present’.[6] Brandi refers to this ‘pure reality’ (realtà pura) using his neologism astanza, or ‘adstance’ (a word derived from the Latin, adstare, ‘proximity’) and contrasts it with flagranza or the ‘flagrance’ of existential and empirical reality.[7] Brandi cites John Dewey’s book Art as Experience (1934): ‘A work of art […] is actually and not just potentially a work of art when it lives in some individualised experience. As a piece of parchment, of marble, or canvas, it remains (subject, however, to the ravages of time) self-identical throughout the ages. But as a work of art, it is recreated every time it is aesthetically experienced. This means that, until such a re-creation or recognition ‒ in Brandian terms, riconoscimento occurs, the work of art is only potentially a work of art […]. It is simply a piece of parchment, or marble or canvas.’[8]

Brandi did not address this distinction in his theory of conservation, but it is central to his concept of art. In Brandian terms, the conservation of an artwork means preserving its pure form. Paradoxically, the physical materials of the artwork, on which the conservation treatments must exclusively focus, are secondary to this ‒ physical matter is completely subordinate to image; its only function is to act as a medium for the manifestation of the image. This gives rise to the requirement that conservation must aim to preserve the material of the artwork for as long as possible.[9]

[1] Brandi published monographs on Giorgio Morandi (1941), Duccio (1951), and Giotto (1983). He wrote several art theoretical studies, on painting (Carmine o della pittura, 1962), on sculpture (Arcadio o della scultura, 1956), on architecture (Eliante o dell’architettura, 1956), and on poetry (Celso o della poesia, 1957). His theoretical work culminated in three works: Segno e immagine (1960), Le due vie (1966), and Teoria generale della critica (1974). Brandi served for a long time as director of Italy’s most important conservation institute Istituto Centrale del Restauro (ICR), in Rome (currently Istituto Superiore per la Conservazione ed il Restauro (ISCR).

[2] I use the second edition of Teoria del restauro (Torino: Giulio Einaudi, 1977) as my reference. The English edition of the book, translated by Cynthia Rockwell, was published in 2005, Theory of Restoration, edited by Giuseppe Basile (Firenze: Nardini Editore). A more correct translation for the title would be Theory of Conservation.

[3] Brandi states that the concept of conservation is not to be articulated ‘on the basis of the practical procedures in which it is carried out, but in relation to the work of art as such from which it receives its qualification’. Cesare Brandi. Restoration. Theory and Practice. Edited by Giuseppe Basile. Associazione Internazionale per la storia e l’attualità del restauro – per Cesare Brandi. Palermo: AISAR editore, 2015, 16, (accessed 6 January 2023).

[4] See, e.g. Paolo D’Angelo. Cesare Brandi. Critica d’arte e filosofia. Macerata: Quodlibet, 2006.

[5] Cesare Brandi. Les deux voies de la critique. Trans. Paul Philippot. Bruxelles: Vokar, 1989, 51.

[6] Cited by Massimo Carboni in his Cesare Brandi. Teoria e esperienza dell’arte. Milano: Jaca Book, 2004, 44‒45.

[7] Paul Philippot. ‘The Phenomenology of Artistic Creation according to Cesare Brandi’, in Cesare Brandi. Theory of Restoration. Edited by Giuseppe Basile. Firenze: Nardini Editore, 2005, 30; Giuseppe Basile. Teoria e pratica del restauro in Cesare Brandi. Saonara: Il Prato Editore, 2007, 56. On this distinction crucial to Brandi’s thinking, which he does not, however, discuss in his theory of conservation, see Brandi’s Teoria generale della critica. Roma: Editori Riuniti, 1998. Stefano Gizzi has compared astanza to Walter Benjamin’s notion of aura, in his ‘The Relationship Between Brandi’s “Astanza” and Benjamin’s “Aura” and its Influence on the Restoration of Monuments’, in J. Delgado & J.M. Mimoso (eds.), Theory and Practice in Conservation. Proceedings of the International Seminar. Lisbon: Laboratório Nacional de Engenharia Civil, 2006, 73‒86.

[8] Brandi, Theory of Restoration, 48. Brandi’s term riconoscimento has a thematic connection to what Étienne Souriau called ‘instauration’. That is ‘a process that elevates that which exists to an entirely different level of reality and splendour […]. “To instaure” does not so much refer to the act of creation as it does to the “spiritual” establishing of something, ensuring it a “reality” within its own genre.’ Peter Pál Pelbart. ‘Towards an Art of Instauring Modes of Existence that “do not exist”’, (accessed 31 December 2022).

[9] Brandi, Theory of Restoration, 49.

Featured image: Retouching a painting at the Conservation Unit of the Finnish National Gallery.
Photo: Finnish National Gallery /Jenni Nurminen

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