Magnus Enckell, Death’s Walk, 1896, watercolour and pencil on paper, 50.5cm x 67.5cm, Ahlström Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

Tones of Black – Magnus Enckell’s Early Work

Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, PhD, Chief Curator, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, co-curator of ‘Magnus Enckell’ exhibition 2020−21

Also published in Hanne Selkokari (ed.), Magnus Enckell 1870−1925. Ateneum Publications Vol. 141. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, 2020. Transl. Don McCracken

Magnus Enckell may not be a household name but some of his works are very well known. Boy with Skull (1892) and The Awakening (1894) are paintings that have retained their fascination for generations in Finnish art history. But what was Enckell like, as a man and an artist? How did his career begin and how did it progress from the late 19th to the early 20th century?

Enckell was already an influential person from a young age, and his interests and bold artistic experiments were the subject of much attention. His artistic career differed from others of his generation, not least because from the start, he received support from Finland’s most prominent artist, Albert Edelfelt, who also later served as his mentor, yet he was also very international in his artistic taste. When many of his fellow artists were involved with the transnational ideas of national revival, Enckell’s interests were focussed on international art and especially on Symbolism.

Enckell’s life as an artist is intriguingly contradictory, and on a personal level he was apparently complex and often divided opinion.[1] Yet he had many supporters, and he influenced ideas and perceptions about art among his close artist friends. Enckell was also good at networking and he forged his own international connections with artists in Paris. Unlike his contemporaries, he worked and socialised closely with women artists, making no distinction between the sexes, which was very unusual in the late 19th century. In his youth he enjoyed deep mutual appreciation and friendships with Ellen Thesleff, Beda Stjernschantz, and the sculptors Sigrid af Forselles and Madeleine Jouvray, although these relationships changed with the times. As we will see, Enckell was able to move smoothly between the Finnish and international art scenes, private and public, between a wide variety of worlds, both at home and abroad.[2]

Magnus Enckell’s early output, from 1884 to 1896, was prolific but also full of experimentation and ambitious exploration. As with many other artists, it is also fragmented, and not just because he is known to have destroyed some of his work from this time: this makes it rather difficult to compile a coherent picture of the early stages of his career.[3] Jaakko Puokka’s 1949 monograph on Enckell provides a comprehensive, chronological list of works but, since many are undated, my research has led me to form slightly different conclusions.[4]

[1] Johannes Öhqvist. Suomen taiteen historia. Helsinki: Kustannusosakeyhtiö Kirja, 1912, 453−57.

[2] See Marja Lahelma. ‘Beda Stjernschantz’, 70−71; Anu Utriainen. ‘Sigrid af Forselles’, 94−95 and Hanna-Reetta Schreck. ‘“The you of my youth” – Magnus Enckell and Ellen Thesleff’, 35−37, in Hanne Selkokari (ed.), Magnus Enckell 1870−1925. Ateneum Publications Vol. 141. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, 2020.

[3] Enckell is known to have destroyed works that he was unhappy with in the 1890s in particular. Jaakko Puokka. Magnus Enckell: Ihminen ja taiteilija. Helsinki: Suomalainen tiedeakatemia & Otava, 1949, 83; Salme Sarajas-Korte. Suomen varhaissymbolismi ja sen lähteet. Helsinki: Kustannusosakeyhtiö Otava, 1966, 197.

[4] See the new Illustrated Catalogue compiled for the Magnus Enckell exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum, 23 October 2020 to 14 February 2021, https://research.fng.fi/2021/01/23/magnus-enckell-illustrated-catalogue.

Featured image: Magnus Enckell, Death’s Walk, 1896, watercolour and pencil on paper, 50.5cm x 67.5cm, Ahlström Collection, 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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Anitra Lucander, Stony Moor, 1957, oil on canvas, 41.5cm × 54.5cm Ester and Jalo Sihtola Fine Arts Foundation Donation, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

A Changing Landscape

Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, PhD, Chief Curator, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum

Also published in Anne-Maria Pennonen and Hanne Selkokari (eds.), Silent Beauty – Nordic and East Asian Interaction. Ateneum Publications Vol. 117. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Transl. Don McCracken

Many of the most significant transformations in European art between the 1870s and the First World War occurred in the field of landscape painting. Although landscape painting as a genre was initially a relatively small part of the visual arts field, it offered opportunities for improvisation and self-expression, and a deeper relationship with nature as an artist, writer or traveller. Landscapes were associated with poetry, purification and heightened emotional states. Many artists eschewed the materialistic view of an industrialising Europe, and instead sought an understanding of landscape painting and a deployment of colour within it that would evoke parallels with more intangible forms of expression, such as music and spiritual life. In the era of Symbolist art in the 1890s, an image of the world based on sensory perception encountered an image fuelled by the imagination. New styles and compositions replaced the objectivity of plein air landscapes; there was no differentiation between the way the foreground and background was treated, and the traditional concept of perspective was broken.[1]

Nordic artists’ ways of portraying the landscape changed radically at the end of the 19th century. One of the major reasons for this was a growing familiarity with Japanese and Chinese art and its visual culture.[2] Characteristics of Japonisme began to appear in Nordic landscape art from the late 1870s. From an international perspective, this was already the second wave. Nordic artists’ perception of the landscape expanded and focused on new kinds of subject matter. Gabriel P. Weisberg summarised the new visual features of European art when he said that they came from Japanese imagery that featured numerous references to Mount Fuji, rugged beach cliffs, dense lines of trees and the rhythmic formation of waves.[3]

[1] Richard Thomson. ‘In to the Mystic’, in Frances Fowle (ed.), Van Gogh to Kandinsky. Symbolist Landscape in Europe 1880–1910. Brussels: National Galleries of Scotland, Van Gogh Museum, Ateneum Art Museum & Mercatorfonds, 2012, (151−77), 151; Rodolphe Rapetti. ‘Introduction. Landscapes and Symbols’, in Frances Fowle (ed.), Van Gogh to Kandinsky. Symbolist Landscape in Europe 1880–1910. Brussels: National Galleries of Scotland, Van Gogh Museum, Ateneum Art Museum & Mercatorfonds, 2012, (15−38), 15.

[2] Europeans did not necessarily distinguish between Japanese and Chinese ceramics and art. Gabriel P. Weisberg. ‘Rethinking Japonisme: The Popularization of a Taste’, in Gabriel P. Weisberg et al. (eds.), The Orient Expressed: Japan’s Influence on Western Art, 1854–1918. Jackson: Mississippi Museum of Art, 2011, (17−75), 17−19, 33; Anna Tuovinen [Kortelainen]. ‘Japanismia à la française’, in Anna Tuovinen (ed.), Japanismi Suomen vuosisadan vaihteen taiteessa. Turun taidemuseon julkaisuja 2/94. Turku: Turun taidemuseo, 1994, (6−21), 10−12.

[3] For new visual tropes in Japanese art, see Gabriel P. Weisberg. ‘The Japonisme Phenomenon’, in Gabriel Weisberg, Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff & Hanne Selkokari (eds.), Japanomania in the Nordic Countries 1875−1918. Helsinki: Ateneum Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery & Mercatorfonds, 2016, (14−37), 27−31.

Featured image: Anitra Lucander, Stony Moor, 1957, oil on canvas, 41.5cm × 54.5cm
Ester and Jalo Sihtola Fine Arts Foundation Donation, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

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František Kupka, Amorpha, Fugue in Two Colours 1912, oil on canvas, 211cm x 220cm. National Gallery in Prague

František Kupka: Sounding Abstraction – Musicality, Colour and Spiritualism

Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, PhD, Chief Curator, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki

Also published in Anne-Maria Pennonen, Hanne Selkokari and Lene Wahlsten (eds.), František Kupka. Ateneum Publications Vol. 114. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum 2019, 11–25. Transl. Tomi Snellman

The art of František Kupka (1871–1957) has intrigued artists, art historians and exhibition visitors for many decades. Although nowadays Kupka’s name is less well known outside artistic circles, in his day he was one of the artists at the forefront in creating abstract paintings on the basis of colour theory and freeing colours from descriptive associations. Today his energetic paintings are still as enigmatic and exciting as they were in 1912, when his completely non-figurative canvases, including Amorpha, Fugue in Two Colours and Amorpha, Warm Chromatics, created a scandal when they were shown in the Salon d’Automne in Paris. It marked a turning point in many ways, not least in the decision of the Gaumont Film Company to use Kupka’s abstract works for the news in cinemas in France, Germany, the United States and England.[1] And as we will see, Kupka’s far-reaching shift to abstraction was a long process which grew partly out of his childhood interest in spiritualism and partly from Symbolist and occultist ideas to crystallise into the concept of an art which could be seen, felt and understood on a more multisensory basis. Kupka’s art reflects the idea of musicality in art, colour and spiritualism. The transition period in which these ideas influenced his art, from 1907 to 1912, reveals a process which led to Kupka’s contribution as a member of the important group of artists who followed a spiritual path to produce non-figurative, abstract art.

[1] Markéta Theinhardt and Pierre Brullé 2012, ‘František Kupka’s Salons.’ In Helena Musilová (ed.), František Kupka: The Road to Amorpha. Kupkas Salons 18991913. Prague: National Gallery Prague, 41–43, 115.

Featured image: František Kupka, Amorpha, Fugue in Two Colours 1912, oil on canvas, 211cm x 220cm. National Gallery in Prague

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Ellen Thesleff, Violin Player, 1896, oil on canvas, 40 x 44 cm Ahlström Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jukka Romu

Correspondences – Jean Sibelius in a Forest of Image and Myth

Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, PhD, Chief Curator, Finnish National Gallery,
Ateneum Art Museum

First published in Hanna-Leena Paloposki (ed.), Sibelius and the World of Art. Ateneum Publications Vol. 70. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, 2014, 81–127.

Thanks to his friends in the arts the idea of a young Jean Sibelius who was the composer-genius of his age developed rapidly. The figure that was created was emphatically anguished, reflective and profound. On the other hand, pictures of Sibelius show us a fashionable, reckless and modern international bohemian, whose personality inspired artists to create cartoons and caricatures. Among his many portraitists were the young Akseli Gallen-Kallela[1]  and the more experienced Albert Edelfelt. They tended to emphasise Sibelius’s high forehead, assertive hair and piercing eyes, as if calling attention to how this charismatic person created compositions in his head and then wrote them down, in their entirety, as the score.

Such an image of Sibelius largely conforms to the notion of the artists’ spirituality in late-19th-century art theory: artists were seen as special individuals endowed with the ability to achieve greatness and explore inner worlds. The idea was brewing in the international art world that artists were free, heroic individuals detached from everything mundane and trivial.[2] The importance of Sibelius for Finnish art of the 1890s is also accentuated by the fact that, according to the symbolist theory of art, music, being ‘immaterial’, was the highest form of art. Sibelius’s synaesthetic propensity to perceive colours and sounds together was also seen as a sign of a true artist.[3]

This essay examines Jean Sibelius through the visual art of his day, with a view to discovering how his image was fashioned to correspond to international ideas of art prevalent in the 1890s. It also highlights the way his music influenced the artists around him and their work. On the other hand, it is also obvious that Sibelius drew on influences from contemporary art for his own work as a composer. He was in constant contact with artists and surrounded himself at his home in Ainola with artworks that he both purchased and received as gifts.[4] This fruitful and complex interaction played a central role at a turning point in Finnish art and culture at the beginning of the 20th century, when the art world was undergoing an innovative period of new contacts and internationality.

I am so happy to be able to view paintings in Munich and in particular those of [Franz von] Stuck that Erik [Eero Järnefelt] has pictures of. I will now surely save [money] so that before returning home I will get to Italy – to Venezia. (……) I will take a ‘gallery’ at the opera. I will sit there in my shirtsleeves and enjoy. I am now fully restored to my old self. I will have to try to get out a little every year. Then I will be as I used to be.[5]

International modern art provided links to literature, poetry, music, nationalism and science. The age favoured artists such as Sibelius who might be described as a patriotic cosmopolitan. There was a duality in his work; he was both national and international. Sibelius travelled outside Finland 41 times in all, and throughout his active career he went abroad on average once a year.[6] These travels were also a necessity for the composer, who publicised his music by conducting it with different orchestras. At the same time, he also spent a great deal of time engaging with contemporary art. Travelling nourished inspiration and Sibelius worked on his second symphony in Italy, in Rapallo, on his third in Paris, and on Tapiola in Rome. It is characteristic that, by his own admission, he worked best either in the peace and quiet of the countryside or in a hotel room in the city. This productive dualism is common to many visual artists, too. Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Sibelius’s brother-in-law Eero Järnefelt, as well as Pekka Halonen, all found directions for their art in both urban Paris and the silence of the forest. The clear references in Sibelius’s music to the mythic world of the Kalevala, to the forces of nature, to the animal kingdom and turn-of-the-century fantasy all contributed to the image of a contemporary composer who was as much at home as a flâneur in Vienna, Berlin and Paris as he was trekking in vast forests or seeking inspiration among the Koli hills.

[1] Axel Gallén (1865–1930), this form of name until 1907.

[2] Alongside Realism and Naturalism, the literary movement known as Nietzscheism also developed on the international art scene. In his lectures on Nietzsche in 1888, the Danish writer Georg Brandes disseminated the new philosophy among Scandinavians. Another important influence was the Swedish writer, critic and artist August Strindberg, who had entered his ‘Nietzsche period’. The philosophy, with its mythical culture of superman and mysticism, left its imprint also on Finnish art of the 1880s. The first version of Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s On the Road to Tuonela (1888) portrays a heroic man, a free individual, who is liberated from all that is mundane and ordinary. Sarajas-Korte 1989, 239.

[3] Synaesthesia refers to the neurological condition in which the senses intermingle. A sensory stimulus results in a perception belonging to some other sense. A person suffering from synaesthesia may see sounds as colours or taste phonemes. The most common form of synaesthesia is so-called colour hearing, which became activated in Sibelius when he saw colours. For further information on colours and synaesthesia, see Arnkill 2007.

[4] On the art works in Ainola, see Hälikkä 2014b, 168–171.

[5] Franz von Stuck was a leading Symbolist artist in Germany and later a teacher of Wassily Kandinsky. Jean Sibelius to Aino Sibelius, Bayreuth 23 July 1894. Talas 2003, 52.

[6] The young Jean Sibelius had his first contact with urban life when, with his sister Linda and his aunt Evelina, he moved from Hämeenlinna to Helsinki in summer 1885. Sibelius’s financial worries made him enter, in his father’s footsteps, the medical faculty of the Imperial Alexander University, but he soon switched to law. He was already irregularly attending the new Music Institute at this time. From the outset he had his mind set on a career as a celebrated violinist. Goss 2009, 64, 67.

Featured image: Ellen Thesleff, Violin Player, 1896, oil on canvas, 40 x 44cm
Ahlström Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jukka Romu

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