Erkki Anttonen, PhD, Senior Researcher, Finnish National Gallery, Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki
First published as a summary of Erkki Anttonen’s article in Hätönen, Helena and Ojanperä, Riitta (eds.), Ilona Harima. Valaistumisen tiellä. Kuvataiteen keskusarkisto (Central Art Archives) 23. Finnish National Gallery / Central Art Archives, 2011. Transl. Diane Tullberg
In 2011, the Finnish National Gallery published a book on the Finnish artist Ilona Harima, whose distinctive art was strongly influenced by Theosophy, Esotericism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. A small exhibition was mounted at the Ateneum Art Museum then, too. Due to the international interest in the history of Theosophy and its relationship to the visual arts FNG Research is republishing an English summary on Harima and her art, which was first published in the above mentioned book
The art produced in Finland during the inter-war period has not yet been fully studied. In particular, the women artists of the period have been given little attention, and some who worked on the fringes of the art world may even have been forgotten. One such is Ilona Harima, who produced highly personal work diverging greatly from the dominant trends of the time.
Ilona Harima (married name Rautiala as of 1939) was born in 1911 in Vaasa on Finland’s west coast. Her parents Samuli and Anna originally had the surname Hohenthal, but changed this to Harima in 1936. Samuli Harima (1879–1962) was a successful Ostrobothnian businessman, influential in economic circles, and the wealth he accumulated allowed his daughter Ilona to pursue a career as a professional artist. In early 1918 her father’s work prompted a family move to Helsinki, and it was here that Ilona went to school, gaining her middle-school leaving certificate in 1927. The following year she began to study art in the graphics department of the Central School of Applied Arts, though she stayed there for only a couple of years at most.
Featured image: Ilona Harima, Buddha and Two Bodhisattvas, 1947. Gouache, 24.5 x 20.5cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen