Anne-Charlotte Cathelineau, Chief Curator, Petit Palais Museum, Paris
Also published in French as ‘Albert Edelfelt et la critique d’art française’, in Anne-Charlotte Cathelineau (ed.), Albert Edelfelt. Lumières de Finlande. Paris: Paris Musées, 2022, p. 147–57, and in English in the Albert Edelfelt exhibition catalogue by the Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, in Spring 2023. Transl. Susan Pickford
In 1908 the Finnish exhibition at the Salon d’Automne saw French critics hail the pioneering role of Albert Edelfelt (1854–1905), who had died three years previously, in establishing and legitimising a Finnish school of art on the international stage: ‘Today’s Finnish painters owe Edelfelt much – all – of their artistic emancipation. Edelfelt was a bridge between Finland and Europe at the right time, particularly between Finland and Paris. […] He allowed Finland, as his student Magnus Enckell put it, to “take its place in the grand art movement now sweeping the world”.’ This belated recognition of Edelfelt’s contribution was the result of an exemplary career that began in Paris in 1874, and was rooted in a carefully planned exhibition strategy.
‘Today’s light comes to us from the north’
When Edelfelt arrived in Paris in the mid-1870s, he joined an ever growing number of foreign artists trying their luck in Europe’s biggest and brightest cultural hub. It would take another decade, however, before art critics would begin to take a real interest in painters from the far north; when they did, it was as a result of a newfound taste for naturalist aesthetics and an increasing openness to foreign artists at the Fine Arts division of the French administration. Reading the Press notices from the 1880s and 1890s, it is clear that critics were becoming more aware of a specific Nordic school and its main representatives. Praise for foreign artists also played into an attempt to revitalise the French school, which many critics saw as in need of renewal. A growing familiarity with foreign art is apparent from its increasing prominence at the Salon, both in terms of the sheer number of exhibitors and the type of spaces attributed to them.
Late-19th-century critics defined Scandinavia as Norway, Sweden, Denmark – and Finland. Art in the latter was still in a fledgling state, as K. Paijani acknowledged in an opinion piece in 1877, while still pointing out the young school’s dynamism: ‘Only for thirty years or so have we been producing home-grown art […]. Genre painters and landscapists are endlessly inspired by our nature and our national life.’ Edelfelt’s critical reception as one of a number of Scandinavian artists covered in reviews of salons and exhibitions follows this broad trend.
 On Edelfelt’s historiography, see Anne-Maria Pennonen and Hanne Selkokari. ‘Albert Edelfelt, fils prodige de l’art finlandais’, in Anne-Charlotte Cathelineau (ed.), Albert Edelfelt. Lumières de Finlande. Paris: Paris Musées, 2022, 31–40.
 Étienne Avenard. ‘L’exposition finlandaise au Salon d’automne’, Art et décoration, tome 24, Paris, 1908, 137–46.
 Paul Leroi. ’Salon de 1886’, L’Art, tome 40, Paris, 1886, 232–36, 242–53 and L’Art, tome 41, Paris, 1886, 30–40; Paul Leroi. ’Salon de 1887’, L’Art, tome 43, Paris, 1887, 25–42.
 Thérèse Burollet. ‘Cette France … où tout est possible’, in Lumières du Nord. La peinture scandinave. 1885–1915, exhibition catalogue. Paris: Association française d’action artistique, 1987; Riitta Ojanperä. ‘L’art finlandais et la France, 1870–1914’, in Échappées nordiques. Les maîtres scandinaves et finlandais en France. 1870–1914, exhibition catalogue. Lille: Palais des Beaux-Arts / Paris: Somogy éditions d’art, 2008; Vibeke Röstorp. Le Mythe du retour. Les artistes scandinaves en France de 1889 à 1908. Stockholm: University of Stockholm, 2013.
 Emily Braun. ‘Scandinavian painting and the French critics’, in Northern Light. Realism and Symbolism in Scandinavian Painting 1880–1910, exhibition catalogue. New York: The Brooklyn Museum, 1982; Laurent Cazes. L’Europe des arts. La participation des peintres étrangers au Salon: Paris, 1852–1900, doctoral thesis. Paris: Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, 2015; Tanguy Le Roux. ‘L’apparition de l’école du Nord. L’émergence des artistes scandinaves dans la critique d’art française dans les années 1880’, Deshima, no 12, Strasbourg, 2018, 155–70.
 Philippe Burty. ‘Le Salon de 1880. Les étrangers’, L’Art, tome 21, Paris, 1880, 295–307; André Michel. ‘Le Salon de 1884’, L’Art, tome 36, Paris, 1884, 201–13; Léonce Bénédite. ‘Salon de 1891. La peinture au salon des Champs-Élysées’, L’Art, tome 50, Paris, 1891, 234–39; Georges Lafenestre. ‘Les salons de 1892. I. La peinture aux Champs-Élysées’, Revue des deux mondes, tome 111, Paris, 1892, 607–37; Georges Lafenestre. ‘Les salons de 1893. II. La peinture au Champ-de-Mars et la sculpture dans les deux salons’, Revue des deux mondes, tome 118, Paris, 1893, 164–96; Georges Lafenestre. ‘La peinture aux salons de 1896’, Revue des deux mondes, tome 135, Paris, 1896, 897–933.
 Michel, ‘Le Salon de 1884’; Paul Leroi. ‘Salon de 1886’, L’Art, tome 40, Paris, 1886, 232–36, 242–53; Georges Lafenestre. ‘La peinture étrangère à l’Exposition universelle’, Revue des deux mondes, tome 96, Paris, 1889, 139–72.
 Paul Leroi. ‘Salon de 1888. La peinture’, L’Art, tome 44, Paris, 1888, 173–208.; Bénédite, ‘Salon de 1891. La peinture au salon des Champs-Élysées’.
 Finland had been part of the kingdom of Sweden since the 13th century and became a Grand Duchy under Russian domination in 1809.
 K. Paijani. ‘Les beaux-arts en Finlande’, L’Art, tome 8, Paris, 1877, 230–33.
Featured image: Albert Edelfelt, Portrait of Louis Pasteur, study, 1885, oil on canvas, 61cm x 50.5cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen
Read more — Download ‘Albert Edelfelt and French Art Criticism – The Most Parisian of Finns and the Most Finnish of Parisians’, by Anne-Charlotte Cathelineau, as a PDF
Download the article as a PDF >>