Elga Sesemann, Self-Portrait, 1945, oil on canvas, 73cm x 54cm, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Janne Tuominen

Elga Sesemann – A Woman Artist Rediscovered

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

Research project and exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum (1st floor, 13 Aug–14 Nov 2021)

Elga Sesemann (1922–2007) is one of the post-war women artists who made a remarkable debut in the mid-1940s, but then vanished from the Finnish art scene very soon after that. She has only recently been recognised once again and brought back to the attention of researchers and museum visitors.[1] The aim of the forthcoming exhibition and research project is to study the reasons for this development, as well as to show Sesemann’s original and independent artworks in the context of Finnish post-war modernism.

The role and significance of women in the Finnish art scene has been a subject of study in art history for many decades. As a result, numerous creditable publications, academic dissertations and exhibitions have been made about Finnish women artists, teachers and critics from the turn of the 20th century. Due to the pioneering work of professors Riitta Konttinen and Riitta Nikula from the 1980s on, women’s studies became an essential paradigm in art history. This development has made it possible for interdisciplinary researchers to re-evaluate and examine more critically the works of art and careers of women not only as individuals but also in terms of social class, gender and artistic style. In recent years, the research focus has moved on from the turn of the century to the inter- and post-war periods, as there is a growing interest in studying women artists of the first decades of the 20th century. In Finland this was the time of reshaping culture and art for the new independent nation within a modernistic ethos – with an arts scene that seems to have been astonishingly male-dominated.

[1] Sesemann’s works have been included in the exhibitions ‘Urban Encounters’ 2018–2019 and ‘Artists in Ruovesi’ 2019-2020 in the Ateneum Art Museum, ‘State of Mind – Helsinki 1939-45’, 2019-2020 at Helsinki Art Museum HAM and in ‘Täältä tullaan, naistaiteilijat modernin murroksessa’ in Tampere Art Museum 2017. See also corresponding exhibition catalogues.

Featured image: Elga Sesemann, Self-Portrait, 1945, oil on canvas, 73cm x 54cm, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Janne Tuominen

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