Ferdinand von Wright, An Eagle Owl Seizes a Hare, 1860 oil on canvas, 105cm x 119cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Eagle Owls on the Hunt – Technical Analysis of Two Paintings by Ferdinand von Wright

Kirsi Hiltunen, Katariina Johde, Hanne Mannerheimo and Seppo Hornytzkyj
Finnish National Gallery conservation and material research team, Helsinki

Also published in Erkki Anttonen & Anne-Maria Pennonen (eds.), The von Wright Brothers – Art, Science and Life. Ateneum Publications Vol. 99. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum 2017, 149–56. Transl. Wif Stenger

Rarely does one have the chance to study two almost identical paintings. Ferdinand von Wright’s pair of paintings An Eagle Owl Seizes a Hare (Finnish National Gallery, inventory No. A I 58) and Eagle Owl Attacking a Hare (Lahti Art Museum, inventory No. LTM D 45) offer an opportunity to compare the works using technical analysis of the materials. Both works were painted in 1860. We know that the work belonging to the Finnish National Gallery (FNG) was bought directly from the artist for the Finnish Art Society collection in 1864. Lahti Art Museum’s painting originally passed from a private owner to the Viipuri-säätiö (Vyborg Foundation) and then on to the Lahti Art Museum. We also know that one of the paintings was taken to Germany, apparently with the aim of selling it, soon after its completion.[1]

The pictures are like those in a children’s puzzle where the viewer has to spot 10 mistakes. Close inspection reveals minor differences: a missing blade of grass, or grass bent in different ways, or some variation in the form of the rocky outcrop. The FNG’s eagle owl painting is slightly larger, with a more spacious feeling. The painting style in the Lahti work has more sharp contrasts, and rougher details. Was it a draft for the FNG’s painting or a later repetition? Was it painted more quickly? Why were two such similar works painted? Is it possible to use technical art-historical methods to obtain more information about the sequence in which they were painted?

[1] Magnus von Wright’s journal entry 16 June 1860: ‘B. A. Thunberg and family undertook their trip abroad tonight. – Took with them Ferdinand’s eagle owl and hare.’ Wright, Magnus von, 2001. Dagbok 1850–1862. Eds. Anto Leikola, Juhani Lokki, Torsten Stjernberg & Johan Ulfvens. Skrifter utgivna av Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland, nr 600:4. Konstnärsbröderna von Wrights dagböcker 4. Helsingfors: Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland, 16 June 1860 (401). It is assumed that Thunberg took one eagle owl work to Germany, but it is unclear which one. Information from Jukka Ervamaa, 9 Dec. 2016.

Featured image: Ferdinand von Wright, An Eagle Owl Seizes a Hare, 1860, oil on canvas, 105cm x 119cm
Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Read more — Download ‘Eagle Owls on the Hunt – Technical Analysis of Two Paintings by Ferdinand von Wright’ by Kirsi Hiltunen, Katariina Johde, Hanne Mannerheimo and Seppo Hornytzkyj as a PDF

Download the Full Article as a PDF >>