Gill Crabbe, FNG Research
The esoteric interests of Finland’s fin-de-siècle artists have been brought out of the darkness by two researchers, as Gill Crabbe discovered at a recent conference at the University of Turku
The Finnish painter Pekka Halonen stares intensely out from the canvas in his Self-Portrait of 1906, his face glowing with light; in sketches for the Jusélius Mausoleum near Pori, built by his friend the industrialist F.A. Jusélius to lay his young daughter to rest, Akseli Gallen-Kallela designs frescoes featuring vibrational waves in vivid orange and blue; Hugo Simberg paints a child enchanted by strange forms emerging from the darkness in Boy from Säkkijärvi (1897); Ellen Thesleff materialises herself from a deep sepia chiaroscuro resembling the spirit photography of her day. All highly regarded, even revered, artists from Finland’s Golden Age, all interested in esoteric influences that were part of a wider fascination in fashionable fin-de-siècle society across Europe.
Art-historical research has sometimes had an uneasy relationship with the theme of occultism in art. Esoteric influences on many artists in the art-historical canon have remained largely at the margins of academic research, or at worst ridiculed as flights of fancy. Now, however, with recent successful exhibitions such as that of the Swedish artist and medium Hilma af Klimt (1862–1944) at the Guggenheim Museum New York – the museum’s most popular exhibition to date – and with the current resurgence in interest in esoteric subjects by contemporary artists, as seen in some of the works in the Kiasma exhibition ‘Coexistence’ (until 1 March 2020), the presence of occulture in artistic output is something that researchers are starting to take more seriously.
Featured image: Ellen Thesleff, Self-Portrait, 1894–95, pencil and sepia ink on paper, 31.5cm x 23.5cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen
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