Screen capture of the Finnish National Gallery Archive Collections webpage Lähteillä with material related to artist Hugo Simberg

Editorial: Linking Researchers and Museum Collections Data

Riitta Ojanperä, PhD, Director, Collections Management, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki


30 November 2017


One of the topics of this issue is Hugo Simberg (1873–1917), who is one of the most well-known artists in the Finnish art of the turn of the 19th century. Many national
art histories have their ‘golden ages’ and Finland’s relates to this particular period
when Hugo Simberg, together with artists such as Helene Schjerfbeck and Akseli
Gallen-Kallela, renewed Finnish visual art in the spirit of international early modernism. A fascinating aspect of Hugo Simberg’s work has always been the way in which he weaves myths and tales together with an animated feeling of nature.

Hugo Simberg is also one of the artists who is exceptionally richly represented in the Finnish National Gallery’s collections. Together with some 800 art works, the museum holds a significant number of documents such as the artist’s letters and photographs both taken by him or of him. All of the materials in the collections have been thoroughly catalogued at different times, according to varying methods and means.

Today, museums and other cultural heritage organisations are expected to emphasise their ability and willingness to share the cultural property that they possess as widely as possible. At the Finnish National Gallery digital technologies have enabled us to increase digital collections data in our databases and to deliver this information via cultural heritage platforms such as Europeana or the Finnish portal Finna.

Even so, there is still a whole lot of work to be done. Improving collections metadata together with choosing the right digital platforms will enable us to connect datasets that have not previously been linked. If we succeed in carrying out this current objective, this will also strengthen our role as a relevant research organisation and facilitator. All users of digital collections will profit from better data, researchers and research included.

Generating principles for creating relevant collections metadata that meet the needs of future research also requires research skills. We need clearly defined problems to be solved, relevant working methods shared by an active team and a focused plan for reaching the goal. A museum’s mission of being a source of high-quality knowledge is no longer fulfilled only by keeping the collections but also by finding ways to connect those collections to other sources of knowledge via digital metadata.

At the Finnish National Gallery we are looking forward to migrating all of the collections data to a new platform. In the future we wish to serve researchers all around the world with data that will foster the creation of new knowledge about artists such as Hugo Simberg in new and so far unimagined contexts.

To view Hugo Simberg’s works at the Finnish National Gallery’s current collections web page click here:

Featured image: Screen capture of the Finnish National Gallery Archive Collections webpage Lähteillä with material related to artist Hugo Simberg


Wilhelm von Wright, Cuckoo-Wrasse, Male, in Skandinaviens Fiskar, 1836–57, lithograph, hand coloured, 24.5 x 29.5 cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

Artist Brothers Magnus, Wilhelm and Ferdinand von Wright at the Intersection of Art and Science

Anne-Maria Pennonen, MA, Curator, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki

Also published in Erkki Anttonen & Anne-Maria Pennonen (eds.), The Brothers von Wright – Art, Science and Life. Ateneum Publications Vol. 99. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, 11–34. Transl. Wif Stenger

Magnus, Wilhelm and Ferdinand von Wright are integral figures in the history of science and culture in 19th-century Finland and Sweden. They are sometimes referred to as if they were one and the same person, although each had his own, distinct career. The brothers are best known for their paintings and prints of birds but, as well as scientific illustrations, the work of Magnus and Ferdinand also includes many drawings, paintings and still-lifes. In fact, the eldest of the brothers, Magnus, became one of the most prominent landscape painters in Finland in the 1840s, and the youngest, Ferdinand, in the 1850s. Ferdinand also painted several portraits. The middle brother, Wilhelm, who made his career in Sweden, concentrated on scientific illustration, mostly in graphic prints. Over the many years of depicting and observing birds, the brothers acquired a depth of scientific knowledge that justifies calling them ornithologists; Magnus in particular is generally considered to be a pioneer of Finnish ornithology.[1]

It is clear, when we look at their work, that their careers unfolded at the intersection of science and art, and it is sometimes difficult to tell the two apart. While the works are regarded stylistically as part of the tradition of Biedermeier or Romanticism, the scientific accuracy and detail of the pictures is far more important. On the other hand, the brothers’ works communicate a special affection for nature, while also representing the ideals of beauty of the time. This applies especially to Magnus and Wilhelm, who were working at a time when photography was not yet sufficiently sophisticated,[2] and when drawing and painting were the only adequate methods of documenting matters visually.

Magnus, Wilhelm and Ferdinand von Wright’s interest in the natural world was awakened early on in their childhood home in Haminalahti, near the town of Kuopio, and their careers in art began with an amateur interest in drawing. One of their sources of inspiration were hunting trips in the company of their father, Henrik Magnus von Wright. In addition to the birds that they caught, the brothers also drew and painted watercolours of views around their home, a country manor, as well as the people they met. Apart from Haminalahti and Kuopio, the brothers worked primarily in Helsinki and its surroundings, although Magnus did make extensive field trips to South and East Finland. Their work in Sweden mostly consisted of scientific illustration undertaken in three primary locations: initially in Stockholm and on the nearby island of Mörkö, and later on the island of Orust in the Bohuslän province on the west coast.

[1] Leikola, Anto, 2011. History of Zoology in Finland 1828–1918. In Kalevi Riekkinen (ed.), The History of Learning and Science in Finland 1828–1918. Helsinki: Societas Scientiarum Fennica, 57; Lindström, Aune, 1932. Taiteilijaveljekset von Wright. Helsinki: Otava, 3. Henrik Magnus von Wright and his wife, Maria Elisabeth (née Tuderus) had ten children, of whom Magnus (1805–68) was the eldest, Wilhelm (1810–87) second eldest, and Ferdinand (1822−1906) the youngest. The family had altogether four daughters and six sons, four of whom became ornithologists.

[2] The use of photography as a tool among Finnish artists did not become common practice until the 1880s.

Featured image: Wilhelm von Wright, Cuckoo-Wrasse, Male, illustration from Skandinaviens Fiskar, 1836–57, lithograph, hand-coloured, 24.5 x 29.5cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

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Hugo Simberg, Garden of Death 1896, watercolour and gouache on paper, mounted on etching paper, 15.8 x 17.5cm, Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jouko Könönen

New Perspectives on Hugo Simberg’s Contribution to Symbolism

Interview by Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

One of Finland’s great fin-de siècle artists, Hugo Simberg, is less well known abroad, yet his travels in Europe, argues Marja Lahelma in her new book on the artist, had a more extensive impact on his work than had been previously thought

The shared goal of the Finnish National Gallery with its three museums – Ateneum Art Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma and Sinebrychoff Art Museum – is to facilitate and actively generate new approaches to the body of research on the most well-known artists in Finnish art history and in the museum’s collections. The book series Artists of the Ateneum invites some of the best experts in the field to contribute in this work. The second book in the series focuses on Hugo Simberg (1873–1917).

When art historian Dr. Marja Lahelma was invited to write the book on Simberg for this series, she was given six months to research and turn in her manuscript. This might seem a tight deadline, particularly as Lahelma concedes she did not consider herself an expert on the artist. However, the result is a concise, comprehensive book that takes a fresh look at one of Finland’s most unusual and highly regarded artists of the fin-de-siècle period.

Lahelma is no stranger to this period in Nordic art history and her credentials show she was well placed to undertake this project. ‘My PhD thesis was on the dynamics of self and art in the fin de siècle – I had also delivered a conference paper on the connections between the work of Hans Holbein and Hugo Simberg, and the Ateneum Art Museum wanted a book that offered a fresh perspective on Simberg.’

Featured image: Hugo Simberg, The Garden of Death, 1896, watercolour and gouache on paper, mounted on etching paper, 15.8 x 17.5cm, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jouko Könönen

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