Ida Silfverberg, Self-Portrait, 1868, oil on canvas, 56.5cm x 46cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery /Kari Soinio

A New Research Project: ‘Pioneering Women Artists in the 19th Century’

Anne-Maria Pennonen, PhD, Curator, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum

In Europe, the 19th century was a dynamic period that saw great economic, social, political and cultural changes that had an impact on women and their situation, including their education and their career choices. In the field of the arts, however, there still seems to be relatively little information concerning Nordic women artists at the beginning of the century, and yet we know that several men artists instructed women in their studios. During the first half of the century, painting and drawing were mostly regarded as merely suitable hobbies for women, and nothing more. Women could not attend art academies officially, and only a few worked as professional artists.

‘The Pioneering Women Artists’ research project was launched at the Ateneum Art Museum in September 2020, and now an international research group is to be assembled for the project. The aim is to stimulate research and debate, re-introduce forgotten or neglected women artists, and to present completely new names. The results of the project will be released in the form of a publication and an exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki. The dates of the exhibition will be announced later.

The focus of this research project is on pioneering women artists who were active in Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Baltic countries and Germany in the 19th century. There were big differences between the first and the second half of the century however, so a more precise time frame for the project will be defined later. The starting point of the project is to examine the opportunities for Nordic and Baltic women artists to study and work in their home countries and in Germany. The principal German cities in this respect are Düsseldorf, Dresden, Berlin, Munich, Karlsruhe and Weimar. At the same time, the project also aims to bring forward those women, for instance, from the US, Great Britain, France and Italy who had connections with Germany and possibly also with Nordic and Baltic women artists.

Besides gender, it is also essential to consider the aspect of centre and periphery in the field of arts, culture and science. In the 19th century, Germany constituted a centre in this respect, whereas the Nordic countries, especially Finland and Norway, were regarded as peripheral. Here the concept of periphery is understood as a geographical spatial element that is outside the centre. It is also worth noting that there were centres and peripheries within each Nordic country, and the juxtaposition also concerned their mutual relationships. Thus, Denmark and Sweden acted as centres, as they were politically independent kingdoms with long traditions of university education and their own art academies that had been established in the 18th century. In comparison, Finland and Norway were ruled by Russia and Sweden, and at the beginning of the century, they were only starting to organise their local artistic life and art education. To receive better training, one had to travel abroad.

The approach of this project is mainly art-historical but also cultural-historical, and the topic is examined from the perspectives of education, networks, travel, and movement. In most of these countries women were barred from gaining university degrees or attending art academies. Travelling as such constituted a challenge for them, as they could not travel by themselves as easily as men and they also needed an escort.

Finland as an example of women artists’ situation

In Finland, the situation changed in the mid-19th century when, following examples from Germany, the Finnish Art Society was founded in Helsinki in 1846 and the Society’s Drawing School two years later. Although a traditional drawing school had already been set up in Turku in 1830, it mostly served as an institute for pupils and apprentices for professional painters, and no women were admitted until 1852. The Drawing School of the Finnish Art Society was noteworthy in that it admitted women from the start. As its name suggests, the school mainly focused on drawing, and no nude models were used, which was probably the condition that enabled women to study there. If a student wanted to be instructed in oil painting, they would either have to enlist the services of an artist privately or travel abroad.

A great deal of art-historical writing on the 19th century has discussed the importance of Paris and France. This has also been the case in Finland where artists, including women, discovered Paris and France, especially in the 1880s. This period has been described as the heyday of Finnish women artists. At the same time, the career choices of women artists from earlier times has gained less attention, and the role of Düsseldorf and other German cities has largely been ignored or undervalued. As for Düsseldorf, a considerable amount of research into its Art Academy has been carried out in connection with different exhibitions, and yet women artists’ studies and networks in the city have largely escaped closer examination. However, the city played an important role in the art education of several Nordic women artists before Paris. The first women travelled from Norway and Sweden in the 1840s. They were followed by the Finns in the 1850s. To name a few, there was Amalia Lindegren (1814–91) from Sweden, Aasta Hansteen (1824–1908) from Norway, and Fanny Churberg (1845–92) and Victoria Åberg (1824–92) from Finland. Prior to this, for instance, Dresden had attracted women artists during the first decades of the century. We also know that there were several women studying art in Munich and in Karlsruhe.

Previous academic research and exhibitions on women artists

It was still the accepted truth in the 1940s in Finland that the status of women artists had been exceptionally good, although, as late as the early 1980s writers and exhibitors were interested only in the work of a few women artists. However, the situation started to change in the 1980s when a group of researchers studied women artists at the University of Helsinki. The research was funded by the Academy of Finland and the group was active in 1985–86. This work was followed by the Kristiina Institute, which was founded at the University of Helsinki in 1991 and focused on gender studies. In addition, several museums in Finland, including the Ateneum Art Museum, have organised a wide range of exhibitions on Finnish women artists. Consequently, a considerable amount of research has been carried out to bring more and more forgotten or neglected women artists into the limelight.

Internationally, the volume of research on women artists has increased considerably, since Linda Nochlin published her groundbreaking article in ArtNews ‘Why there have been no great women artists’, in 1971. It was followed by the exhibition ‘Women Artists 1550–1950’ at the Los Angeles County Museum in 1976, which inspired museums to search their collections for forgotten women artists and their works. Interestingly, a year before that, in 1975, however, the Nationalgalerie in East Berlin had organised an exhibition on German women artists under the title ‘Deutsche bildende Künstlerinnen von der Goethezeit bis zur Gegenwart’ (German Women Artists from the Age of Goethe to the Present), which remained unnoticed in the West due to the political situation at the time. Moreover, in 1982, Rozsika Parker and Griselda Pollock introduced a more radical approach in their groundbreaking book Old Mistresses: Women, Art and Ideology. At the same time women’s studies in France focussed more closely on language and literature. Recently, the exhibition ‘Fighting for Visibility. Women Artists of the Nationalgalerie before 1919’, organised in Berlin in 2019, shed light on how women’s artworks made it into the museum’s collections. At the same time, the exhibition also celebrated the centenary of women’s right to start regular studies at the Berlin Art Academy and elsewhere in Germany.

How to participate

We now invite international scholars and museum professionals to participate in the research group. To begin with, the objective is to chart the artists of the period, their works and networks, and to present new, lesser-known artists and their works. Another aim is to compare the education and status of women artists in different countries in the period being studied. We are planning to hold the first international Knowledge Sharing Workshop in the autumn of 2021. The research project is led by Ateneum Art Museum Curator, Dr Anne-Maria Pennonen. For more information, please contact her, anne-maria.pennonen@ateneum.fi.

Featured image: Ida Silfverberg, Self-Portrait, 1868, oil on canvas, 56.5cm x 46cm
Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery /Kari Soinio

Read more — Download ‘A New Research Project: ‘Pioneering Women Artists in the 19th century’, by Anne-Maria Pennonen, as a PDF

Download the article as a PDF >>

Magnus Enckell, From Suursaari Island, 1902, gouache and pencil on paper, 46.8cm x 66.4cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

Magnus Enckell on the Islands in the Gulf of Finland

Anne-Maria Pennonen, PhD, Curator, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum

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

Finnish artists began to find visual themes for their works on the islands of the eastern Gulf of Finland in the 19th century. In particular, Suursaari (known as Hogland in Swedish and Gogland in Russian) attracted many artists and became a popular place to visit and paint each summer. The island was also referred to as Paratiisisaari (‘Paradise Island’) and ‘the pearl of the Gulf of Finland’.

Magnus Enckell visited Suursaari nearly every summer between 1901 and 1912. In his day, the island had not yet become the tourist destination it would be in the 1920s. Many artists depicted the island, which is now part of Russia, until the war years of the 1940s. It was handed over to the Soviet Union as part of the Moscow Armistice of 1944.[1] Besides Suursaari, Enckell also visited another island that now belongs to Russia, Pitkäpaasi, as well as Kuorsalo, which is closer to the mainland and part of the Finnish city of Hamina. During his summers on these islands, Enckell created many works portraying the sea, as well as life on the islands and their inhabitants.

Enckell was attracted to maritime life and sailing, in particular from the early 20th century onwards, enjoying the fresh air during long boating jaunts with friends. In this period, health officials were propagating new information about the role of the sun and light, particularly in combatting infectious diseases. Artists too were interested in the fashionable trends of the day, such as naturism and neovitalism. According to naturist ideals, natural nudity without restrictive clothing or shoes, as well as sunbathing and swimming, helped the body to free itself from the shackles of civilisation. Neovitalist thought, on the other hand, saw the individual as part of a life force that governs nature. It aimed to improve a person’s wellbeing through physical culture, while at the same time warding off the ills brought on by modern urban life.[2] These new movements were entwined with the popularity of Suursaari, where the rocky shore hid sheltered inlets with sandy beaches, which later became dotted with colourful changing huts and where the island’s summer residents swam and basked in the sun.[3]

[1] Leena Räty. Paratiisisaari. Menetetty Suursaari taiteilijoiden kuvaamana. Lappeenranta: Etelä-Karjalan taidemuseo, 2002, 5.

[2] Riitta Ojanperä. ‘Vitality’, in Timo Huusko (ed.), Surface and Depth. Early Modernism in Finland 1890−1920. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, 2001, (94–112) 96–97; Riitta Ojanperä. ‘Keho, vauhti ja voima’, in Pinx. Maalaustaide Suomessa. Maalta kaupunkiin. Porvoo: Weilin & Göös, 2002, (252–55) 254–55; Riitta Ojanperä. Taidekriitikko Einari J. Vehmas ja moderni taide. Helsinki: Valtion taidemuseo / Kuvataiteen keskusarkisto, 2010, 233−36. See also Marja Lahelma. ‘Colour Revolution, Vitalism and the Ambivalence of Modern Arcadia’, in Hanne Selkokari (ed.), Magnus Enckell 1870−1925. Ateneum Publications Vol. 141. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, 2020, 143–55; also published in FNG Research 6/2020.

[3] See J. W. Mattila and Jorma Mattila. Suursaari. Helsinki: WSOY, 1941.

Featured image: Magnus Enckell, From Suursaari Island, 1902, gouache and pencil on paper, 46.8cm x 66.4cm. 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.

Read more — Download ‘Magnus Enckell on the Islands in the Gulf of Finland’, by Anne-Maria Pennonen, as a PDF

Download the article as a PDF >>

Ahti Lavonen, Untitled, 1961, oil on canvas, 54cm x 65.5cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

A Sense of Materiality, Simplification and Ascetic Minimalism

Anne-Maria Pennonen, PhD, 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

Western art and the applied arts underwent great changes in the early decades of the 20th century. The post-First World War period was characterised by idealism, from culture to politics and the economy. Efforts were made to break established norms, find new means of expression and test the boundaries of art. In art this change manifested in abstract art, while in the applied-arts field there was a rejection of traditional ornamental styles, and a simplification of shapes and materials. The aim was to create a democratic world, and the material environment played a central role in this endeavour.

In the spirit of the age, the art field idealised machines and mass production and strove to combine spirituality with social idealism. At the same time, various avant-garde movements connected with Modernism began to take over. Conversely, the opposite values were also highlighted in the applied arts, where the goal was to get rid of mass production. Already in the late 19th century, encouraged by William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement, artists and craftsmen were urged to integrate their work with that of artisans, returning to their immediate connection to their material. The importance of hand-made objects and the use of natural materials were also emphasised.

Following international trends, Finnish artists began to use new methods in the spirit of Modernism. The truth-to-life academic style of painting and using materials was abandoned in favour of simplification and a sense of materiality, which were all emphasised in both the visual and applied arts. Eastern artists and aesthetics played a significant role in this development. This article discusses how the materiality and asceticism of Finnish artists’ paintings can be viewed alongside ceramics and textile art. How does a sense of materiality, and on the other hand minimalism, appear in these works? Which methods have been used, which features have been emphasised, and how does this trend relate to oriental aesthetics?

Featured image: Ahti Lavonen, Untitled, 1961, oil on canvas, 54cm x 65.5cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

Read more — Download ‘A Sense of Materiality, Simplification and Ascetic Minimalism’, by Anne-Maria Pennonen, as a PDF

Download the article as a PDF >>

Hjalmar Munsterhjelm, Brook (a copy after Johann Wilhelm Schirmer’s Parthie an der Düsselmit Pestwurz), undated, 48.5cm x 55.5cm. Gösta and Bertha Stenman Donation, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Kirsi Halkola

Lectio Praecursoria: In Search of Scientific and Artistic Landscape

An Introductory Lecture at the Public Examination of Anne-Maria Pennonen’s Dissertation, In Search of Scientific and Artistic Landscape – Düsseldorf Landscape Painting and Reflections of the Natural Sciences as Seen in the Artworks of Finnish, Norwegian and German Artists, University of Helsinki, 21 February 2020  

Anne-Maria Pennonen, PhD, Curator, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum

Opponent Prof Bettina Gockel, University of Zürich, Custos Prof Ville Lukkarinen, University of Helsinki

Landscape painting is a rather new phenomenon in Finland. Apart from a few examples from preceding centuries, it started to develop properly only in the course of the 19th century. In its early stage, landscape graphics and illustrated travelogues played an important role. Moreover, Düsseldorf had a great influence on how artists’ interests – and later the public interest – were directed towards landscape painting.

In Finland and Sweden, the public gaze was focused on Düsseldorf as a result of the ‘Nordic Art Exhibition’, which took place at the Royal Academy in Stockholm in 1850. The exhibition presented works by artists who had studied or were working in Düsseldorf, and it was the landscapes by the Norwegian artists, Hans Gude and August Cappelen, that attracted the most attention. Inspired by the exhibition, Werner Holmberg became the first prominent Finnish artist to travel to Düsseldorf to study landscape painting, in the summer of 1853. Victoria Åberg, Magnus von Wright and Fanny Churberg were among others who travelled to Düsseldorf following Holmberg’s lead.

As for the role of the Art Academy in Düsseldorf, it was actually the work of individual artists and their activities outside the Kunstakademie that built up the city’s reputation in landscape painting. One of these was Johann Wilhelm Schirmer, who is regarded as the founder and pioneer of the landscape painting of the Düsseldorf School. At the beginning of his career, Schirmer was nominated to teach the landscape painting class in 1830, and later he continued as a professor. In Düsseldorf, Schirmer had a great impact on the activities outside the Kunstakademie, and he introduced a new approach to landscape, according to which it was essential to look at the landscape in a ‘proper fashion’, and expressions like ‘the new naturalism’ and ‘the truth of nature’ were widely used. As a part of Schirmer’s teaching practice, it was essential to study landscape in the open air, and accordingly compose sketches and studies from nature – only from nature. Schirmer’s ideas and teachings were conveyed to Finnish and Norwegian artists by the Norwegian artist Hans Gude.

Featured image: Hjalmar Munsterhjelm, Brook (a copy after Johann Wilhelm Schirmer’s Parthie an der Düsselmit Pestwurz), undated, 48.5cm x 55.5cm, Gösta and Bertha Stenman Donation, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Kirsi Halkola
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.

Read more — Download Lecture at the Public Examination of Anne-Maria Pennonen’s Dissertation as a PDF

Download the article as a PDF >>

Wilhelm von Wright, Cuckoo-Wrasse, Male, in Skandinaviens Fiskar, 1836–57, lithograph, hand coloured, 24.5 x 29.5 cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

Artist Brothers Magnus, Wilhelm and Ferdinand von Wright at the Intersection of Art and Science

Anne-Maria Pennonen, MA, Curator, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki

Also published in Erkki Anttonen & Anne-Maria Pennonen (eds.), The Brothers von Wright – Art, Science and Life. Ateneum Publications Vol. 99. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, 11–34. Transl. Wif Stenger

Magnus, Wilhelm and Ferdinand von Wright are integral figures in the history of science and culture in 19th-century Finland and Sweden. They are sometimes referred to as if they were one and the same person, although each had his own, distinct career. The brothers are best known for their paintings and prints of birds but, as well as scientific illustrations, the work of Magnus and Ferdinand also includes many drawings, paintings and still-lifes. In fact, the eldest of the brothers, Magnus, became one of the most prominent landscape painters in Finland in the 1840s, and the youngest, Ferdinand, in the 1850s. Ferdinand also painted several portraits. The middle brother, Wilhelm, who made his career in Sweden, concentrated on scientific illustration, mostly in graphic prints. Over the many years of depicting and observing birds, the brothers acquired a depth of scientific knowledge that justifies calling them ornithologists; Magnus in particular is generally considered to be a pioneer of Finnish ornithology.[1]

It is clear, when we look at their work, that their careers unfolded at the intersection of science and art, and it is sometimes difficult to tell the two apart. While the works are regarded stylistically as part of the tradition of Biedermeier or Romanticism, the scientific accuracy and detail of the pictures is far more important. On the other hand, the brothers’ works communicate a special affection for nature, while also representing the ideals of beauty of the time. This applies especially to Magnus and Wilhelm, who were working at a time when photography was not yet sufficiently sophisticated,[2] and when drawing and painting were the only adequate methods of documenting matters visually.

Magnus, Wilhelm and Ferdinand von Wright’s interest in the natural world was awakened early on in their childhood home in Haminalahti, near the town of Kuopio, and their careers in art began with an amateur interest in drawing. One of their sources of inspiration were hunting trips in the company of their father, Henrik Magnus von Wright. In addition to the birds that they caught, the brothers also drew and painted watercolours of views around their home, a country manor, as well as the people they met. Apart from Haminalahti and Kuopio, the brothers worked primarily in Helsinki and its surroundings, although Magnus did make extensive field trips to South and East Finland. Their work in Sweden mostly consisted of scientific illustration undertaken in three primary locations: initially in Stockholm and on the nearby island of Mörkö, and later on the island of Orust in the Bohuslän province on the west coast.

[1] Leikola, Anto, 2011. History of Zoology in Finland 1828–1918. In Kalevi Riekkinen (ed.), The History of Learning and Science in Finland 1828–1918. Helsinki: Societas Scientiarum Fennica, 57; Lindström, Aune, 1932. Taiteilijaveljekset von Wright. Helsinki: Otava, 3. Henrik Magnus von Wright and his wife, Maria Elisabeth (née Tuderus) had ten children, of whom Magnus (1805–68) was the eldest, Wilhelm (1810–87) second eldest, and Ferdinand (1822−1906) the youngest. The family had altogether four daughters and six sons, four of whom became ornithologists.

[2] The use of photography as a tool among Finnish artists did not become common practice until the 1880s.

Featured image: Wilhelm von Wright, Cuckoo-Wrasse, Male, illustration from Skandinaviens Fiskar, 1836–57, lithograph, hand-coloured, 24.5 x 29.5cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

Read more — Download ‘Artist Brothers Magnus, Wilhelm and Ferdinand von Wright at the Intersection of Art and Science’ by Anne-Maria Pennonen as a PDF

Download the Full Abstract as a PDF >>