Lucas Cranach the Elder, Portrait of a Young Woman, 1525, oil on panel, 41cm x 27cm. O. W. Klinckowström Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Editorial: On the Trail of the Old Masters

Kirsi Eskelinen, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery, Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Helsinki


24 September 2019


Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553) the great German Renaissance Master, and Helene Schjerfbeck (1862–1946), one of the most well-known Finnish women painters, are taking centre stage in Helsinki and in London in two important exhibitions.

The Sinebrychoff Art Museum’s exhibition ‘Lucas Cranach – Renaissance Beauties’ presents an area of Cranach’s oeuvre that has received less attention: female beauty and nudes. The starting point for the exhibition concept was the only two Cranach paintings located in Finland, which belong to the Sinebrychoff Art Museum collections: Portrait of a Young Woman (1525) and Lucretia (1530). This is the first monographic exhibition of Cranach to take place in Finland and includes paintings and prints from across Europe’s collections.

We decided to revisit our two Cranach paintings in terms of technical investigation, as well as art-historical research in connection to the forthcoming exhibition. Portrait of a Young Woman was studied comprehensively about 30 years ago, but now there is extensive new technical research data about Cranach’s work that is easily accessible to researchers through Cranach Digital Archive project. At the same time research by art historians has deepened our understanding of Cranach’s art.

Professor Gunnar Heydenreich is head of the Cranach Digital Archive and the leading expert on Cranach’s workshop. We are really delighted and grateful that Dr Heydenreich had time to travel to Helsinki and study the paintings together with our specialists. In this issue we publish an interview with Dr Heydenreich, by Gill Crabbe. The article paints a vivid picture of the art-historical research today and and the refined technical methods used nowadays by conservators in studying works of art.

The major exhibition of Helene Schjerfbeck at London’s Royal Academy of Arts marks an important collaboration with the Ateneum Art Museum. The show will travel to Helsinki later in the autumn. We publish an interview with independent curator Jeremy Lewison who put together the exhibition along with the co-curators Anna-Maria von Bondsdorff, who is Chief Curator at the Ateneum Art Museum, and the RA’s Sarah Lea. Lewison describes the powerful impact Schjerfbeck’s self-portraits had on him, and how they have also been given a significant role in the exhibition. He also emphasises Schjerfbeck’s strong connection with Old Master painting, underlining her engagement with the tradition and her own transformation of it within the modern or the early modernist tradition. Also in this issue, the painter and Royal Academician Ian McKeever reflects on Schjerfbeck’s self-portraits in the context of the development of this genre in Western art. Meanwhile, curator Anu Utriainen offers a more general view on women artists who were active in Finland during the early 20th century in her article dealing with historical, economic and social aspects. This article is also in the catalogue of the exhibition ‘Creating the Self: Emancipating Woman in Estonian and Finnish Art’ that opens at Kumu, Art Museum of Estonia, in Tallinn on 6 December 2019.

Also in this issue the Finnish National Gallery announces its fourth Call for Research Interns, for 2020.

Finally a reminder that this is the last chance to submit proposals for the European Revivals Conference at the Ateneum in January 2020. The deadline is 30 September 2019.

Featured image: Lucas Cranach the Elder, Portrait of a Young Woman, 1525, oil on panel,
41cm x 27cm. O. W. Klinckowström Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Gunnar Heydenreich examines Cranach´s Portrait of a Young Woman. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Conservation Unit, Ari Tanhuanpää

Helsinki’s Cranach Beauties

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

As the Sinebrychoff Art Museum prepared to mount a major exhibition on Lucas Cranach the Elder, Gill Crabbe met Professor Gunnar Heydenreich, head of the Cranach Digital Archive, who was in Helsinki to make an up-to-date assessment of the museum’s two Cranach paintings

Lucas Cranach the Elder, the 16th-century artist who gained success as court painter to Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, was a man in the right place at the right time. Not only was the artist in the employ of a pioneer of Lutheranism when it was igniting a religious revolution that poured itself into Northern European art and culture; he was also a shrewd businessman with a well trained staff of painting assistants and other craftsmen in one of the most successful workshops of the Reformation. Cranach the entrepreneur profited hugely from a time of transition.

Cranach became court artist and moved to Wittenberg in 1505, setting up a workshop in Wittenberg castle; he then expanded his activities, moving to his own premises in the city around 1511-12. Cranach the Elder and his sons were so successful that more than 1.700 paintings from their workshop are known to be extant almost 500 years later, including altarpieces, court commissions, and private portrait commissions, as well as serial productions of popular themes. The Sinebrychoff Art Museum’s two particular treasures – Lucretia (1530) and Portrait of a Young Woman (1525) – were the starting point for conceiving the exhibition ‘Lucas Cranach – Renaissance Beauties’, and as is often the case, mounting the show provided an opportunity to publish up-to-date research for the exhibition catalogue.

Research on the two Cranach paintings carried out by the Conservation Unit of the Finnish National Gallery in the 1980s and 90s was quite extensive and used groundbreaking new techniques for its time. However, in the past year, as part of its preparation for show, the conservation unit started a new research project which involved examining the paintings, taking new images (including IR and X-ray images) and making non-destructive pigment analyses. The museum was then delighted when Professor Gunnar Heydenreich – who is head of the Cranach Digital Archive and widely considered to be the leading expert on Cranach’s workshop – agreed to make a fresh assessment of the two works in its collection. While the provenance of each of the works does not stretch as far back as its origins, Portrait of a Young Woman has been in the Finnish Art Society collection since 1851 and Lucretia had been in a private collection since the 1790s before the Sinebrychoff Art Museum acquired it in 1994.

Featured image: Gunnar Heydenreich examines Cranach’s Portrait of a Young Woman.
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Conservation Unit, Ari Tanhuanpää

Read more — Download ‘Helsinki’s Cranach Beauties’, by Gill Crabbe, as a PDF

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Installation view of the ‘Helene Schjerfbeck’ exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 20 July – 27 October, 2019 Photo: David Parry

Showing Schjerfbeck in London

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

The major survey exhibition of Helene Schjerfbeck at London’s Royal Academy of Arts, which travels to Helsinki in November, marks an important collaboration with the Ateneum Art Museum and has put Finland’s national treasure firmly on the wider European cultural map. Gill Crabbe met Jeremy Lewison, the lead curator of the exhibition in London, to discuss the significance of Schjerfbeck’s work and how he conceived the show for the Academy’s new gallery space

How did you come across the work of Helene Schjerfbeck?

I first saw her work in an exhibition called ‘Identity and Alterity’, organised by Jean Claire, at the Venice Biennale in 1995, and there were five self-portraits in that show. I remember being struck not only by the power of these portraits but also their imaginative quality and they just seemed to be very different and shocking in many ways – not all of them were late self-portraits, they ranged across her career. I thought, here is an artist I’d like to find out more about. I did nothing until after I had set up on my own and in the Nordic region I came across her work in different places and saw a survey show in Gothenburg around 2009–10. However, at that show I didn’t really have any sense of the coherence of her work and I was not so impressed. But I kept thinking there must be another way of looking at the work, especially as the self-portraits were so powerful, so I began to do my own research. When I was working on the Alice Neel show in Helsinki I was given a copy of the catalogue of the ‘Helene Schjerfbeck: 150 years’ celebration exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum (2012) and it was at that point I thought I could put together an interesting exhibition. It took a while to raise a wider interest in the project in London. Then in 2016 I asked if the Ateneum Art Museum would support my effort to organise an exhibition in London. Susanna Pettersson, then Director of the museum, was enthusiastic and I suggested that the Royal Academy of Arts would be the right place.

Why did you suggest the RA?

The Academy mounts both large survey shows in its Main Galleries and mid-scale exhibitions in the Sackler Wing of Galleries and in its new space, the Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries. Since Helene Schjerfbeck had a strong relationship to Old Master painting – and so historically does the RA – I thought the Academy could be an interesting context in which to show her work. I put together a presentation for RA Artistic Director Tim Marlow, curator Sarah Lea and exhibitions producer Andrea Tarsia and they were enthusiastic. That was in 2017. Then it had to go to the RA’s Exhibitions Committee – comprising mainly Royal Academicians – and they approved it. .

Featured image: Installation view of the ‘Helene Schjerfbeck’ exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 20 July – 27 October, 2019
Photo: David Parry

Read more — Download ‘Showing Schjerfbeck in London’, by Gill Crabbe, as a PDF

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Helene Schjerfbeck, ­ Self-Portrait, 1912, oil on canvas, 43.5cm x 42cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

Artist Ian McKeever on the Raw Power of Helene Schjerfbeck’s Self-portraits

Ian McKeever, painter and Royal Academician

First published in the Summer 2019 issue of RA Magazine to coincide with the presentation of the ‘Helene Schjerfbeck’ exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London (until 27 October 2019)

‘For I have always found it impossible to resemble myself from one day to the next.’
– Philippe Ricord

‘…I never go around mirrors… it tears me up to see a grown man cry,’ he sang to himself, as he looked into the mirror. The face staring back at him, presumably to others always the same face, was to him barely known. He never could figure out whose skin he was in; for sure it was not his. But then he would not recognise his own skin were it ever to wrap itself around him. How did others deal with this, he wondered? Did they too feel this discomfort, a rub which never eased? Never spoken about, lived with; or was he one of just a few who had what felt like a body on loan. A body he did not fully trust. Committing to something he did not fully know or trust seemed reckless. So he withheld, as if only ever partially present in the world. A part of himself held back, unsure if he had the resilience to endure, survive total immersion. Most of the time he felt truly lost. Things around him, people even, polluted him. Turning him into mere flotsam and jetsam floating aimlessly, without meaning. Becoming just a part of the vague, directionless flow of life. Any meaning which might crystallize itself into something concrete, graspable, eluded him most of the time. So when in those odd moments it did materialise, he hung on to it as if his life depended on it. He turned away from the mirror, casting one last glance into those eyes.

It is 1975. I am in Helsinki. Participating in my first group exhibition abroad. It is an exhibition of SPACE artists, the London-based studio collective, at the Taidehalli, the city exhibition space run by the Finnish Artists’ Union. The city feels dour, grey, emerging as it was from being politically sandwiched between Sweden and the Soviets. Each of the visiting artists has been allocated a Finnish counterpart as minder-cum-guide. Mine is Timo, a painter photographer, who also writes, perhaps a couple of years younger than myself. We get on well. On one of the free days Timo takes me to the Ateneum Art Museum, which houses part of the Finnish national collection of paintings. It is my first introduction to the history of Finnish art. Difficult; I have no reference points. However, Timo is good, he knows his country’s painting tradition, and he helps me to ease my way in. Some works come easier than others; the large snowy landscape of Akseli Gallen-Kallela for instance, I can thread back to a broader context with relative ease. At one point we find ourselves in a gallery of smallish paintings, still-lifes, landscapes and portraits. It is the work of Helene Schjerfbeck, Timo enthuses. I am both curious and nonplussed. Unable to make head or tail of what I am looking at – why the fuss?

Over the following years Timo and I become good friends and I am in Finland fairly regularly. On such visits at some point I invariably find myself standing yet again in front of Helene Schjerfbeck’s paintings. They have become a Finnish marker for me. One of those things we use when travelling to tell us we have arrived, be it a croissant in Paris or the mounds of fresh mint in Marrakesh. Paintings too can anchor one from museum to museum, country to country. I have only to stand in front of Vilhelm Hammershøi’s small Portrait of a Young Woman in Funen Art Museum in Odense to know I am slap bang in the middle of Denmark and its culture. For me in Finland this has become Helene Schjerfbeck

Featured image: Helene Schjerfbeck, ­Self-Portrait, 1912, oil on canvas, 43.5cm x 42cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

Read more — Download ‘Raw Power of Helene Schjerfbeck’s Self-portraits’, by Ian McKeever, as a PDF

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Sigrid Schauman, Italian Landscape, 1930s, oil on canvas, mounted on cardboard, 44.5cm x 35cm Antell Collections, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Finnish Women Artists in the Modern World

Anu Utriainen, MA, Senior Researcher, Ateneum Art Museum / Finnish National Gallery

Also in Anu Allas and Tiina Abel (eds.), Creating the Self: Emancipating Woman in Estonian and Finnish Art. Tallinn: Art Museum of Estonia, 2019 (to be published in December 2019)

The works of Finnish women artists, and the choices they made both in their lives and careers show how women worked independently in this demanding profession in the early decades of the 20th century. They were forced to strike a balance between expectations and restrictions arising from their gender and their professional goals, as well as from their personal desires. Women who established professional careers in art refused to make concessions regarding the content of their work; they had a firm idea of themselves as artists and were well aware of their abilities and talents. For example, Ellen Thesleff considered herself a creative genius, regardless of gender, while Helene Schjerfbeck wanted to be treated and addressed first and foremost as an artist, without reference to her gender.[1] What is noteworthy is the uncompromising attitude of these women towards their work. Many of them were able to renew themselves as artists even at advanced ages and to learn new techniques.

Although gender was not an obstacle to studies in the fine arts in Finland, many women artists at the turn of the 20th century were nevertheless forced to make choices in their private lives in order to continue in the profession. For example, those who remained unmarried included Fanny Churberg, Ester Helenius, Helmi Kuusi, Sigrid Schauman, Helene Schjerfbeck, Ellen Thesleff and Maria Wiik. Thesleff believed that solitude was part of creative work and a sign of a strong ego.[2] Many others found spouses or partners who were also active in art and culture, among them Ina Colliander, Elin Danielson, Hilda Flodin, Greta Hällfors, Tove Jansson, Tuulikki Pietilä, Elga Sesemann and Venny Soldan.[3] Sigrid Schauman’s solution was perhaps the most radical: she did not marry the father of her daughter and decided to raise her alone. At the time, this was exceptional by any standards and was certainly not socially acceptable for an upper-class woman such as herself.

Women played an important role in the construction of the field of art in Finland in the latter half of the 19th century and later in the portrayal of a modern civic society. They were also bold and innovative, experimenting with styles and forms, as well as techniques. In this essay, I discuss modernist trends in Finnish art from the particular viewpoint of the construction of professional careers for women artists.[4]


[1] Konttinen, Riitta 2004. Oma tie. Helene Schjerfbeckin elämä. Helsinki: Otava, 249.

[2] Konttinen, Riitta 2017. Täältä tullaan! Naistaiteilijat modernin murroksessa. Helsinki: Siltala, 54.

[3] Ina Colliander’s husband was the author Tito Colliander; Elin Danielson married the Italian artist Raffaello Gambogi. Hilda Flodin was married to the painter Juho Rissanen, and Greta Hällfors to the artist Sulho Sipilä. Tove Jansson and Tuulikki Pietilä were partners for several decades. Elga Sesemann married a fellow student, the artist Seppo Näätänen. Venny Soldan was married to the author Juhani Aho (Brofeldt).

[4] Even though women played a significant role in the Finnish art scene at the turn of the century, only about 10 per cent of professional artists were women. The number of works acquired for museum collections at the time was the same: around 10 per cent were made by women.

Featured image: Sigrid Schauman, Italian Landscape, 1930s, oil on canvas, mounted on cardboard, 44.5cm x 35cm. Antell Collections, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen#

Read more — Download ‘Finnish Women Artists in the Modern World’, by Anu Utriainen, as a PDF

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Call for Research Interns 2020

Finnish National Gallery
Call for Research Interns 2020

The Finnish National Gallery wishes to raise new interest in research topics based on its resources and collections. It also wishes to be an active and innovative partner in collaborating with the academic scene in reinforcing humanistic values and the importance of understanding the world and human culture by creating new, meaningful and relevant knowledge.

For this purpose the Finnish National Gallery organises a research internship programme for art or cultural history students (preferably master’s-level) internationally.

The programme has two aims. The Finnish National Gallery wishes to enhance the study of its collections including artworks, archives, and objects. At the same time it wishes to support students who choose to write their master’s level theses on subjects based on physical collections and objects, archive material and data.

In 2020 the Finnish National Gallery is prepared to receive three research interns.

The internship period is three months with the intern under contract to the Finnish National Gallery. The salary is equivalent to the salary of university trainees.

The intern chooses in advance the material of the Finnish National Gallery collections that he/she wishes to study, and agrees on studying it during the internship period. It is desirable that the material will form part of the intern’s thesis. The intern is required, during the period of their internship, to write a text in English, based on the material and the research done at the National Gallery. The text may be published in one of the sections of the FNG Research web magazine.

Each intern will have an in-house professional tutor at the Finnish National Gallery. The tutor and the intern will meet on average weekly.

The Finnish National Gallery is not responsible for the academic supervision of the intern’s master’s thesis. The role of the National Gallery is to support the intern’s skills in collections research practices.

Are you interested? If so, please send your application by e-mail to or by post to FNG Research, Senior Researcher Hanna-Leena Paloposki, Kaivokatu 2, 00100 Helsinki, Finland.

Applications can be written in English, Finnish or Swedish.

The deadline for applications is 15 November 2019 and the appointments will be announced by 13 December 2019.

The interns are appointed by the FNG Research editorial board.

For more information about the application process and programme, please click on the link below:

How to apply for the research internship programme at the Finnish National Gallery for master’s-level art and cultural history students >>