Harri Kalha, PhD, Scholar, author / Adjunct professor, University of Helsinki & University of Turku
Also published in Hanne Selkokari (ed.), Magnus Enckell 1870−1925. Ateneum Publications Vol. 141. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, 2020
Society speaks verbosely of its own silence, takes great pains to relate in detail the things it does not say, denounces the powers it exercises…
– Michel Foucault
‘What on earth? Are we really at an exhibition of the artist Magnus Enckell?’, exclaimed Kasimir Leino, critic for Uusi Suometar, in May 1909. For a few years now, the painter had delved into colour, and reactions were ambiguous. One of the main works exhibited was a portrait of veteran artist Albert Edelfelt. ‘Its mottled background disturbs us’, the critic pondered, ‘why splash greens and reds onto Edelfelt’s familiarly somber features, and add violet, even green onto his greying hair? We consider such folly a trivial nod to recent fashions […].’
Some four years later ‘R-o.’ of Pohjalainen berated the ‘excessive refinement and delectation which risks becoming rather sugary. Thus a work like Parisian variety show is downright sickly sweet [äitelä in Finnish].’ The colourful depiction might well be seen as capturing the essence of modernity in all its fleeting fancy, yet the verdict was grim.
The reception of Enckell’s colour paintings seems particularly harsh when expressed by the era’s most respected connoisseurs. Edvard Richter of Helsingin Sanomat praised, in a 1917 article, Enckell’s earlier oeuvre as ‘peerless products of linear strength and plastic feeling’, but he continued: ‘What is there to say about Enckell’s paintings in this new exhibition? In all honesty, they are good. However – they are good because Mrs. H’s portrait is finely drafted and the portrait of Mrs. C with son is masterfully composed. Were I to say anything more, it would not be in earnest.’
Even so, Richter could not refrain from adding: ‘Their colours don’t delight my eyes, they express nothing but a rather excessively bright red, an immoderate working of colours, which have lost their sense of freshness.’
 Kasimir Leino. ‘Magnus Enckellin näyttely’, Uusi Suometar, No. 120, 29 May 1909.
 R-o. ‘Ryhmänäyttely Ateneumissa’, Pohjalainen, 14 April 1913.
 Edvard Richter [E. R-r.]. ‘Septemin näyttely’, Helsingin Sanomat, 11 February 1917.
Featured image: Magnus Enckell, Awakening Faun, 1914, oil on canvas, 65.5cm x 81cm
Hoving Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen
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