One of the Finnish Art Society’s minute books shown open with additional inserts. Archive of the Finnish Art Society. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Minttu Juvonen

Editorial: Art History and the Spirit of Inquiry

Susanna Pettersson, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery, Ateneum Art Museum

 

July 25 2017

 

In 1891 Eliel Aspelin-Haapkylä (1847–1917) published the art history book Suomalaisen taiteen historia pääpiirteissään which was the first ever art history presentation printed in Finnish. It was a supplement to Wilhelm Lübke’s famous book Grundriss der Kunstgeschichte (Outlines of the History of Art, 1860) that had been translated into several languages, including Finnish in 1893.

Aspelin-Haapkylä told the general story passionately. And he was certainly the right man to do the job: he had already written two artists’ monographs – one published in 1888 on the sculptor Johannes Takanen, and the other in 1890 on the painter Werner Holmberg. As one of the first art historians in Finland, he felt that the country needed to understand the importance of art and its development.

There were many publications that were to follow. By the end of the nineteenth and early 20th century, art historians such as Johan Jakob Tikkanen, Onni Okkonen and Johannes Öhquist continued to research and write the story of art. In addition to these general presentations, artists’ monographs also became increasingly important. The key artists all deserved an analysis of their lifetime achievements.

These early publications explain what was valued and why, what was regarded as good and what less so, and why certain artists became more celebrated than others. The authors were all gatekeepers of their own time, having several roles such as art history writers, critics, university professors, and active members of the art world, thus being in the possession of a fair amount of cultural, economic and societal capital. Their choices mattered a lot.

Contemporary research can revisit the formation of the history of art history. It can – and must – look into what was trending at the time, what the authors read and whom they followed, how their taste was built and why, who were their friends and how the professional networks were built. The archives of the artists add to the story in a significant way.

In terms of the historical material, we can still rely on archives: rich correspondence, minutes of meetings and other documents. The closer we come to the present, the thinner the material we leave behind. Thinking about my discussions with my international or in-house colleagues, or any discussions of any member of the art world – they are mostly floating in the cloud of emails or social media messages. And who knows, some of that material could be valuable one day.

The articles in this issue remind us of the importance of the source material for research: physical art works, oral history i.e. interviews that can still be made, material that already exists in the collections that can be revisited and analysed from today’s perspective, and documents such as artists’ letters that are being acquired for the collections.

Most importantly this issue of FNG Research reminds us – as all of them do – that we must continue asking questions. This is the only way forward and the gateway to new discoveries.

Featured image: One of the Finnish Art Society’s minute books shown open with additional inserts. Archive of the Finnish Art Society. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery.
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Minttu Juvonen

The first touring exhibition organised by the Fine Arts Academy of Finland, ‘From Edelfelt to Sallinen – The Masterpieces of Finnish Art’, here shown mounted in Kajaani in 1951. Photographer: M. Hynninen. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery

High Quality Art for Wide Audiences – The Touring Exhibitions of the Fine Arts Academy of Finland

Tarja Hartman, MA, Museum Guard, Finnish National Gallery

The Fine Arts Academy of Finland Foundation was established in 1939 and took over from the Finnish Art Society the responsibility for running the two museums, the Ateneum Art Museum and the Sinebrychoff Art Museum. The Exhibition and Education Department was founded in the 1950s. This Department organised national touring exhibitions and took care of archiving, publishing and research operations. The touring exhibitions were organised to enable people across Finland to see high quality art.

The first exhibition started its tour in 1950 and the last one in 1990. During these years 85 exhibitions went on display. They ranged from paintings, sculptures and graphic arts, and covered old classics as well as contemporary art. In 1990 the Fine Arts Academy of Finland was placed under government administration as the Finnish National Gallery. In the new organisation the Exhibition and Education Department no longer existed. The touring exhibitions programme ended, and the Central Art Archives was to take care of the archive collections. In 2014 the Finnish National Gallery was reorganised into the public foundation that exists today.

The aim of this article is to map out the objectives that were set for the touring exhibitions of the Fine Arts Academy of Finland and to assess the means with which the objectives were reached and how well they performed. The article is based on my Master’s thesis that gives an overview how the effectiveness of the touring exhibitions can be evaluated.[1] At present the Finnish National Gallery aims to invest in the effectiveness of the exhibition and research activities, as well as extending its national and international networks. Developing and expanding touring exhibitions operations is part of that. My goal is to provide information about the important elements of the touring exhibitions of the Fine Arts Academy in order to provide background information for the touring exhibitions of today.

[1] Hartman, Tarja, 2017. Laadukasta taidetta laajalle yleisölle. Suomen taideakatemian säätiön kiertonäyttelytoiminnan vaikuttavuuden arviointia (High quality art for wide audiences. Effectiveness evaluation of the touring exhibitions of the Fine Arts Academy of Finland). Master’s thesis. The Degree Programme in Cultural Production and Landscape Studies, Cultural Heritage Studies, School of History, Culture and Arts Studies, University of Turku.

Featured image: The first touring exhibition organised by the Fine Arts Academy of Finland, ‘From Edelfelt to Sallinen – The Masterpieces of Finnish Art’, here shown mounted in Kajaani in 1951.
Photographer: M. Hynninen. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery

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First page of Helene Schjerfbeck’s letter to Martha Neiglick-Platonoff, Saltsjöbaden, Sweden 20 August 1944. Helene Schjerfbeck’s letters to Martha Neiglick-Platonoff. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

New Donation of Helene Schjerfbeck Letters to the Finnish National Gallery

Helena Hätönen, MA, Curator, Archives and Library, Finnish National Gallery

The Archive Collections of the Finnish National Gallery received an interesting addition to its collection of artists’ letters recently, when a private individual donated eight letters written by painter Helene (Elli) Schjerfbeck (1862–1946) that had been in the possession of the donor’s family. The letters relate to the last years of Schjerfbeck’s life, when she was in Sweden, from the summer of 1944 to the summer of 1945. Schjerfbeck was staying in Saltsjöbaden’s spa hotel where she still painted whenever her health permitted.

The recipient of the donated letters was her second cousin, artist Martha Neiglick-Platonoff (1889–1964). Schjerfbeck’s mother and Neiglick’s maternal grandmother were sisters. The War Censors had opened and examined half of the letters. The recipient’s Russian surname probably affected the matter. The censorship practice was obviously known to the author as well. The contents of the letters are summarised and restrained, and many things are alluded to rather than made explicit.

Martha Neiglick had studied, like Helene Schjerfbeck, at the Finnish Art Society’s Drawing School and later abroad. She had remained a widow following the death of her spouse, the Russian naval captain, Lieutenant Igor Platonoff (1887–1921). To Helene Schjerfbeck, Martha Platonoff was both a relative and an artist colleague.

The donated letters date from the time of the Continuation War’s intensification in the summer 1944, and it is because of this that Schjerfbeck had moved to a more secure residence in Sweden. Martha Platonoff was staying in the Finnish countryside to escape the Russian bombardments. Her only offspring, Lieutenant Stephan Platonoff (1917–44) – who was also a Master of Arts – had crashed at the Finnish front line in the Battle of Ihantala on the Karelian Isthmus at the end of June that year. The event is never mentioned in the letters, but it is made apparent through the themes of fear, mourning and loss contained in them.

The letters will be made available to researchers after they have received due conservation. One of the letters, written on 20 August 1944, is now published in digital format in FNG Research. To access it, click the link below.

Featured image: First page of Helene Schjerfbeck’s letter to Martha Neiglick-Platonoff, Saltsjöbaden, Sweden, 20 August 1944. Helene Schjerfbeck’s letters to Martha Neiglick-Platonoff. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

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Helene Schjerfbeck, Self-Portrait, 1912, oil on canvas Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

The Enigma of Helene Schjerfbeck

Interview by Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

As the Finnish National Gallery announces a new donation of Helene Schjerfbeck’s letters, Gill Crabbe interviews Lena Holger, who has been a scholar of this intriguing artist since the 1970s and whose extensive research work has been significant in producing new knowledge and questions regarding Schjerfbeck’s art and life

GC A private individual has recently donated to the Finnish National Gallery eight letters written by Helene Schjerfbeck (1862–1946) that were in the possession of the donor’s family. The letters relate to Schjerfbeck’s last years of life in Sweden, from 1944 to 1945, when she resided in Saltsjöbaden’s spa hotel. The letters were written to Schjerfbeck’s second cousin, the artist Martha Neiglick-Platonoff (1889–1964). What research questions do you imagine are prompted by the emergence of these letters?
LH Helene Schjerfbeck longed to return home to Finland for most of the two years that she
stayed in Sweden, which were her last years. She wanted to have her relatives nearby and
would certainly have appreciated such correspondence highly. I have not seen the letters yet, but hopefully they contain more than mere family matters. I presume that Martha Neiglick-Platonoff’s letters to Schjerfbeck have disappeared, like so many other letters addressed to Helene Schjerfbeck.

GC What is the significance of the 1912 Self-Portrait which was recently purchased by the Ateneum Art Museum? This self-portrait has been known and exhibited, but there is clearly a new interest in portraiture and self-portraits internationally, so are there new angles to this part of Schjerfbeck’s oeuvre?
LH Portraits always say more about a person than a photograph does, and a painted
self-portrait says even more. I have written about this self-portrait from 1912 in an article
about international influences in the book accompanying the 1997 exhibition in Denmark at Nordjyllands Kunstmuseum, ‘Helene Schjerfbeck: kvinder, mandsportraetter, selvportraetter, landskaber, stilleben’ (Helene Schjerfbeck: women, portraits of men, self-portraits, landscapes, still-lifes), and more recently in my book for the Ateneum Art Museum in 2016. It is a sign of a new self-confidence and a kind of ‘goodbye’ to the artist world, which had not accepted her as an artist colleague. In the painting, one of her eyes is without an iris as though she was blind: blind to the world or blind to the critics. She is also turning her painting soul and face to the public again after about 10 years of painting in solitude. She had latterly entered on her own path as an artist and she shows it here.

Featured image: Helene Schjerfbeck, Self-Portrait, 1912, oil on canvas
Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

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Featured image: Jorma Puranen, From the Series ‘Shadows, Reflections and All of That Kind’, 1997–2002, chromogenic colour print. Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

Care for the Image – Meaning, Sense, Materiality

Ari Tanhuanpää, PhD Candidate, Senior Conservator, Finnish National Gallery, Sinebrychoff Art Museum

This is a summary of the doctoral dissertation in art history defended at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland, on 10 June, 2017. Its theoretical starting point is a phenomenologically-based view of the being of the image, in which Georges Didi-Huberman´s work plays a central role. One of the central aims of this research is the critical assessment of prevailing premises in conservation-restoration and technical art history. This study attempts to show that physical art objects, instead of being puzzles to be solved, are paradoxical in nature. Edmund Husserl has shown that image consciousness requires a specific kind of intentionality, similarly, consciousness of the Materiality of the Image presupposes a consciousness of a materiality that is ontologically distinct to the Image.

The study begins with a discussion on the Heideggerian concept of ʿcareʾ (Sorge). For Martin Heidegger, care was the ontological mode of Dasein. It meant mindful lingering, Besinnung, on the beings which are ready-to-hand (zuhanden) and present-to-hand (vorhanden) and have a fundamental ontological significance. It meant care for the sense (Sinn) of Being. Georges Didi-Huberman also discusses the concept of ʿcareʾ. His concept (souci) denotes care for images and imagination, for meaningful, affective encounters with images, and involves solicitation that makes images oscillate. Images do not submit to being regarded as subsistent (vorhanden) intentional correlates of the constituting ego in the sense of Gegenstand. Instead, they become constellations comparable to cloud formations or gas eruptions, which are in a state of continuous, endless motion, pulling us towards their swaying motion. Such constellations can provide only negative certainty, certainty without an object, connaissance sans objet, in Jean-Luc Marion´s terms. The only certainty we are able to glean from an artwork belongs to the region of its beingness, to its physical artefactuality. However, that which makes an artwork has nothing ontic, nothing thinglike in it. With the term ʿImageʾ, I refer to a concept that does not fall within the sphere of traditional art-history discourse. It is my conviction that an image is never alone. Images are always contaminated by numerous other images from various eras. In the words of Jean-Luc Nancy, an image is singular plural. Yet it is all too often approached only in its impoverished form, in Marion´s terms as a poor (pauvre) phenomenon.

We can have knowledge only of objects, not of images. The sensuous manifoldness of images has been reduced to match our finite cognitive faculties. Here, I am not referring to images as signs or symbols as they are understood in iconography, iconology, visual culture studies, semiotics or Bildwissenschaft, and I will not try to give a definition of the concept of ʿimageʾ. Neither am I talking about popular imagery. The Image I am talking about is not a single entity – it is a relation, and it is for this reason that I have chosen to write it with a capital I. The capital initial also underlines the fact that the Image is ontologically distinct (le distinct). When the word ʿimageʾ is spoken, there is no way of knowing about the capital letter – any more than you can hear the distinction between différence or différance. Therefore, I must show this Image to you – just like Derrida had to write down his différance in order to make it known. Thus writing comes before speech – the material sign that is the original mimēsis before any representative function. The Image I am referring to does not represent anything – any thing – that precedes it. It does not represent anything exterior but performs its being of the Image by being an image, a relation.

Featured image: Jorma Puranen, chromogenic colour print from the series ‘Shadows, Reflections and All of That Kind’, 1997–2002, . Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

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Eila Hiltunen working on the Sibelius Monument, 1966. Photographer: Otso Pietinen. Eila Hiltunen Picture Archive. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery

Dissertation in Progress: A Topography of Art Research, including Eila Hiltunen’s Files at the Finnish National Gallery Archive Collections

Gloria  Lauterbach, PhD Student, Contemporary Art, Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Helsinki

A short chronology of my research

In my doctoral research I study large-scale metal sculptures and the way the material and the female sculptor’s body affect each other in the creative process. In order to understand this interrelationship – also expressible as material exchange in the field of New Materialism where I anchor this research – my case studies are two Finnish sculptors, Eila Hiltunen (1922–2003) and Laila Pullinen[1] (1933–2015) and the metal works they created in the period 1961–1969. As a visual artist I complement my study by hand-folding a large-scale copper relief to investigate the theoretical considerations of my dissertation topic in practice.

I started my research with a review of selected works and working methods of Hiltunen and Pullinen from a neo-materialistic viewpoint. I have alternated the study phases within the archive collections of the Finnish National Gallery with my training in the traditional crafts technique of the standing seam – a technique derived from traditional roof making – under the supervision of a professional smith and roof maker. The standing seam technique is the main technique that I use for creating the work of art within my doctoral study. In a last part of my study, I will compare and analyse the findings collected by creating the large-scale copper relief with the data collected from the case studies on one hand and my theoretical frameworks on the other hand.

[1] Laila Pullinen’s archive material is located in a private collection and is currently being studied for this dissertation.

Featured image: Eila Hiltunen working on the Sibelius Monument, 1966. Photographer: Otso Pietinen.
Eila Hiltunen Picture Archive. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery

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