Anne-Maria Pennonen, PhD, curator, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
This presentation was given at the Albert Edelfelt Seminar organised at the Petit Palais, Paris, on 20 May 2022, in connection with the Albert Edelfelt exhibition
Among the Finnish artists of the late 19th century, Albert Edelfelt (1854–1905) was a true cosmopolitan. He was the first of the Finnish artists to settle down in Paris for a longer time – he lived in Paris from 1874 to 1891, and continued to keep his studio there until his death in 1905. Edelfelt travelled a lot during these years, not only to Finland for the summer, but also to southern France, Italy, Spain, Russia, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Germany and England. Being well-connected with people from different social backgrounds, he understood the importance of networks. His wide social network consisted not only of artists, but also actors, composers, opera singers, writers, industrialists and businessmen, politicians, and scientists, as well as members of imperial and royal families.
To operate in such an international network required language skills, and we can say that Edelfelt was a true polyglot. At school in Finland, he had learnt Greek and Latin as part of his training; Swedish was his mother tongue, he knew some Finnish, but French became his second language. In addition, he spoke German, English, Spanish, as well as Italian and some Russian.
Although Edelfelt was sometimes quite a controversial character and made critical comments about the different people he had met, he was, nonetheless, socially talented, outgoing and capable of building a wide network. This is quite evident if we compare him with his good friend and colleague Gunnar Berndtson, who came from a similar background, but was shy and more introverted.
This presentation is based mainly on Edelfelt’s letters to his mother Alexandra in the years 1873–1901. In these letters, Edelfelt described his life and travels abroad. Edelfelt was a diligent writer, and sometimes his letters are quite critical, but they can also be hilarious. In addition to the great number of letters, he contributed articles about art and reviews on exhibitions to newspapers, and made illustrations, too.
Featured image: Albert Edelfelt, Michael and Xenia, Children of Tsar Alexander III, 1881–82, watercolour on paper, 29.4cm x 22.8cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen
Read more — Download ‘Albert Edelfelt and His International Network’, by Anne-Maria Pennonen, as a PDF