Gill Crabbe, FNG Research
The exhibition ‘Alexander Lauréus – To Rome’ involved careful research and curation in reassessing the artist’s oeuvre, as well as in attracting international audiences who might be less familiar with this foundational artist in Finland’s national art collection. Gill Crabbe meets the show’s two curators, Ira Westergård and Lotta Nylund, to discuss their collaboration
Planning a bicentennial exhibition of an artist offers a golden opportunity to reassess their significance, not only in terms of their place within the canon of art history but also their relevance to today’s culture. So when the Sinebrychoff Art Museum was approached in 2020 by Lotta Nylund, Chief Curator of Villa Gyllenberg Art Museum, with a proposal to mark the 200th anniversary of the death of Alexander Lauréus (1783–1823), whose oeuvre is the subject of her doctoral thesis, they did not need much persuading. Yet while this might in some ways seem strange for an artist whose fortunes had long been in the doldrums, and who had not been the subject of an exhibition in over 40 years, the museum’s chief curator Ira Westergård could see the potential in spotlighting this Turku-born painter who in his day had enjoyed considerable success as a pioneer of a new kind of genre painting in the early Romantic period. For this kind of exhibition project can not only revive interest in an artist, marking a pivotal point of ‘rediscovery’ but also, in spreading the net to a wider international audience, it can even mark a moment of discovery for the very first time.
From the Finnish National Gallery’s standpoint there was ample reason to stage a Lauréus exhibition now at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum. First and foremost, Lauréus has excellent credentials. ‘Lauréus comes at the starting point of the Finnish canon of art,’ Westergård points out. ‘When the Finnish Art Society was established in 1846, Lauréus was among the very first whose works they collected. A group of nine oil paintings had already been acquired in 1849, and the FNG Collection now includes a total of 31 oil paintings, making it the biggest collection of his paintings in Finland. Although his career really started when he enrolled at the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm, Lauréus was born in Turku, so the Finnish Art Society more or less co-opted his art into the Finnish context as part of its aspirations in creating a Finnish national identity.’ Lauréus was also a technically excellent painter, executing fine copies from the 17th-century Dutch masters and painting innovatory genre subjects from ordinary life. He was also renowned as a master of chiaroscuro. His works in the collection would therefore have offered opportunities for students at the Art Society’s Drawing School to learn directly from his oeuvre.
Featured image: Alexander Lauréus, A Monk in a Ruin, which has been made into a Wine Cellar, 1823, oil on canvas, 65cm x 50cm
Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen
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