Mikko Carlstedt, Self-Portrait, 1913, oil on cardboard, 49.5cm x 42.5cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Asko Penna

Unstill Life – Mikko Carlstedt’s Correspondence and Art, 1911–1921

Max Fritze, MA student, University of Helsinki 

This article is published as a result of a three-month research internship at the Finnish National Gallery, during which Max Fritze studied material in the Archive Collections of the Finnish National Gallery


When I applied for a position as a research intern at the Finnish National Gallery, I submitted a plan to research the November Group, a loosely described group of expressionist artists active from 1916 to 1924.[1] I wanted to approach the group through some of its lesser known members and affiliates, namely the artists Mikko Carlstedt (1892–1964) and Arvo Makkonen (1894–1956). The archive collections of both artists – comprising letters, notes, exhibition catalogues, photographs etc. – have been donated to the Finnish National Gallery. I was especially curious to see how Carlstedt saw his own position in the group as he was a member, whereas Makkonen exhibited with them as a guest artist. Were some inner workings of the November network detailed in Carlstedt’s notes or correspondence?

As I soon found out, the material I was working with did not contribute much to the discourse surrounding the November Group as such. However, the abundant archive material focused my attention on Carlstedt himself. Not much has been written about him – just some short biographical texts[2] and mentions of his name as a side note on the November Group in most broad treatises of Finnish art. In 1955, Onni Okkonen (1886–1962) wrote in his History of Finnish Art: ‘Around 1912 Mikko Carlstedt represented the new outlook on landscape painting, later on he has been known as a more conventional still-life painter.’[3] A seemingly innocuous statement, but ‘conventional’ could be easily read as a slight. All of the artist’s toil and trouble, a career spanning decades neatly compressed in a single word, effectively saying, ‘Nothing new here’. A quick image search, however, produces results that seem to mirror Okkonen’s statement; row after row of more or less classically painted still-lifes depicting colourful flowers in vases and vegetables on tables, most of them painted after the 1930s. Technically excellent and pleasing to the eye, but exactly the sort of imagery art historians rarely concern themselves with.

[1] In 1916 the core members had their first group exhibition. During their exhibition in November 1917 the group got its name and exhibited for the first time under the November Group title in 1918. It is a question of nomenclature whether one sees the group’s first exhibition taking place in 1916, 1917 or 1918.

[2] E.g. Kuuliala, Annamaija, 1992. Häkärlän haltiaväki. Hohteessa menneiden kauniiden kesien – taidetta ja taiteilijoita Sääksmäeltä. Sääksmäki: Sääksmäki-Seura, 83–94.

[3] ”V:n 1921 tienoilla esiintyi uuden maisemanäkemyksen edustajana myös Mikko Carlstedt (s.1892), myöhemmin tunnettu asetelmamaalarina sovinnaisempaan henkeen.” Okkonen, Onni, 1955. Suomen Taiteen Historia. Helsinki: WSOY, 709. All translations in this article are by the author.

Featured image: Mikko Carlstedt, Self-Portrait, 1913, oil on cardboard,
49.5cm x 42.5cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Asko Penna

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