Ferdinand von Wright to Elise Heintzie, Haminalahti on 225 Jan, no year. Collection of Artists’ Letters. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

Ferdinand von Wright, Letter-writer

Hanna-Leena Paloposki, PhD, Chief curator, Archive and Library Manager, Finnish National Gallery, 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, 159–65. Transl. Wif Stenger

The Finnish National Gallery’s archive collections include correspondence and other documents from artists Magnus, Wilhelm and Ferdinand von Wright. They are part of the collection of artists’ letters that is made up of artists’ documents both bought for and donated to the Finnish Art Society. The first batch of the brothers’ letters was acquired for the collections in 1890–91.

In this article I focus on letters written by the youngest of the brothers, Ferdinand (1822–1906), of which there are 104 in the collection. They provide a background to his art and help contemporary readers to approach him as both an artist and as a person. For von Wright, who lived far from the Finnish capital, letter-writing was the most important method of maintaining contacts. Letters have always been important source materials for historians. The chronological distance from the writing of the texts imposes an interpretational challenge, but, on the other hand, letters are generally written in order to overcome and withstand chronological and geographical gaps.[1] Source material is almost always a random selection, as not all documents are generally preserved.[2]

[1] Hyttinen, Elsi & Kivilaakso, Katri, 2010. Johdanto. Lukemattomat sivut. Kirjallisuuden arkistot käytössä. Eds. Elsa Hyttinen ja Katri Kivilaakso. Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seuran Toimituksia 930. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 9.

[2] Researchers choose details of correspondence that are relevant to their own fields, leaving behind information that is irrelevant to their research and which no-one may ever make use of, or which may remain uninterpreted because of inadequate information. An example of this kind of irrelevant detail is that Ferdinand von Wright did not care for women wearing hairstyles with fringes, considering them a form of vanity. This was revealed when B. O. Schauman sent him photographs of well-known women, including an image of the internationally-successful Finnish opera singer Alma Fohrström (fan photos of the day). See Ferdinand von Wright to B. O. Schauman, Haminalahti 19 May 1887 and 14 June 1887. Collection of artists’ letters. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery (= CAL, FNG). Why did Schauman send these pictures? Was it two elderly bachelors sharing their distant admiration for women?

Featured image: A letter from Ferdinand von Wright to Elise Heintzie, Haminalahti, dated 25 January, year not given, page 1. Collection of Artists’ Letters. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

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