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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