Hanne Selkokari, PhD, curator, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
This presentation was given to the Albert Edelfelt Seminar organised at the Petit Palais, Paris, on 20 May 2022, in connection with the Albert Edelfelt Exhibition
The key role played by Albert Edelfelt (1854–1905) in Finnish art and its art field is reflected in the large collection of his works at the Ateneum Art Museum / Finnish National Gallery. It includes more than 6,900 items and is the largest collection of his art in a Finnish museum. Most of these items are naturally individual pages from the artist’s sketchbooks. Edelfelt also had an important role in Finland as an intermediary within the art field.
In this presentation, I will discuss both his own artworks in our collection and how they came to the museum, as well as how he used his connections in France to buy artworks and organise art exhibitions at the Ateneum. I will also show how, after Edelfelt’s death, his family took on the role of preservers and protectors of his artistic work and his reputation, and how when Edelfelt’s closest family died out, the most private works of his artistic career came to the Ateneum.
It is also interesting to consider how the collection of Edelfelt’s art was formed, as he had an exceptional influence over which of his artworks were acquired for the collection of the Finnish Art Society, now the Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. The Art Society started to collect artworks and owned the collection from 1846 to 1939.
Already as a boy and through his family connections, Edelfelt knew all of the leading figures of the Art Society and was in active contact with them while he was studying in Antwerp and later in Paris. The first acquisition was made as early as 1876, when Edelfelt was still a young art student – a set of eight academic studies from 1874–75 (A I 215 A–H). Two years later Edelfelt’s first major history painting, Duke Karl Insulting the Corpse of Klaus Fleming (1878, A I 212), was purchased for the collection. After that many of the works that he showed in Paris were bought by the Finnish Art Society. During his lifetime, a total of 29 of his works were acquired for this purpose. Edelfelt was often personally involved in deciding on these acquisitions as he had great influence both in the Art Society and the Artists’ Association of Finland, as well as in the Antell Delegation. Few, if any, artists have ever had this kind of power concerning national collections in Finland.
 See Albert Edelfelt’s artworks and sketchbooks at the Finnish National Gallery Collection: https://www.kansallisgalleria.fi/en/search?authors=Albert%20Edelfelt&category=artwork (accessed 15 November 2022).
Featured image: Jules-Alexis Muenier, Villefranche Harbour, Nice, 1894, oil on canvas, 54cm x 65.5cm. Antell Collections, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Asko Penna
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