Albert Edelfelt, Self-Portrait in 17th-Century Costume, oil on canvas 1889, 64.5cm x 70.5 cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

Albert Edelfelt Goes on Tour

 Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

As the Ateneum Art Museum prepares to open its exhibition of Albert Edelfelt in 2023, Finland’s beloved 19th-century painter has already drawn huge crowds in Paris and the show has now travelled to Gothenburg. Gill Crabbe asked curators Anne-Maria Pennonen and Hanne Selkokari about the secrets of their successful international collaboration

When the onset of Covid-19 spiralled into a pandemic, one of the many consequences for museums was the havoc it played with exhibition programming. While plans had been carefully laid over several years, across the globe the museum world saw cancellations, postponements and rescheduling of major shows as its custodians struggled to work with the devastating impact of the pandemic. However, Anne-Maria Pennonen and Hanne Selkokari, curators at the Ateneum Art Museum, had already been forced to think outside of the box when they started planning for a major exhibition of one of Finland’s most beloved and greatest artists – Albert Edelfelt. Long before Covid-19 struck, they had been considering how to navigate the upcoming year-long closure of the Ateneum Art Museum for essential repairs. As it turned out, they found there were some advantages to doing things differently.

Now, as Finland awaits the opening in 2023 of the most comprehensive exhibition to date of an artist who is a national hero, Paris has been enjoying the glorious show ‘Albert Edelfelt: Lights of Finland’ at the Petit Palais, a venue built for the 1900 World Fair that Edelfelt himself was closely involved in. Not only that, but the exhibition has now travelled to Gothenburg Museum of Art, ahead of the Ateneum opening. In so doing the curators at the Finnish National Gallery have reversed the traditional sequence of opening their exhibition first on home territory and then touring it abroad.

There are advantages to scheduling a show internationally in this way, not least because new discoveries from research undertaken by other museums involved can open up fresh perspectives and stimulate further research for the Finnish iteration. For a proposal to gain traction with museums abroad, a theme that to some extent can be adapted to suit the location of an individual venue places it in a good position to be accepted. As Anne-Maria Pennonen, who is co-curating the Helsinki show, explains: ‘The idea for this show had already been mooted for several years. Then, when we learnt about the Ateneum building renovation, we thought it would be an ideal opportunity to let our classics travel. Of course, when you think of Edelfelt, then the show had to go to Paris, as he had such strong connections there and even lived there for many years. Our museum Director Marja Sakari had previously been Director of the Finnish Institute in the city and via her contacts a proposal was put together. We had decided that the key theme would be Edelfelt’s international contacts because this is something that is of interest to all parties and he himself was the first Finnish artist to build such an international network.’

Featured image: Albert Edelfelt, Self-Portrait in 17th-Century Costume, oil on canvas 1889, 64.5cm x 70.5cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen
Public domain. This image of a work of art is released under a CC0 licence, and can be freely used because the copyright (70 full calendar years after the death of the artist) has expired.

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