Gunnar Heydenreich examines Cranach´s Portrait of a Young Woman. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Conservation Unit, Ari Tanhuanpää

Helsinki’s Cranach Beauties

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

As the Sinebrychoff Art Museum prepared to mount a major exhibition on Lucas Cranach the Elder, Gill Crabbe met Professor Gunnar Heydenreich, head of the Cranach Digital Archive, who was in Helsinki to make an up-to-date assessment of the museum’s two Cranach paintings

Lucas Cranach the Elder, the 16th-century artist who gained success as court painter to Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, was a man in the right place at the right time. Not only was the artist in the employ of a pioneer of Lutheranism when it was igniting a religious revolution that poured itself into Northern European art and culture; he was also a shrewd businessman with a well trained staff of painting assistants and other craftsmen in one of the most successful workshops of the Reformation. Cranach the entrepreneur profited hugely from a time of transition.

Cranach became court artist and moved to Wittenberg in 1505, setting up a workshop in Wittenberg castle; he then expanded his activities, moving to his own premises in the city around 1511-12. Cranach the Elder and his sons were so successful that more than 1.700 paintings from their workshop are known to be extant almost 500 years later, including altarpieces, court commissions, and private portrait commissions, as well as serial productions of popular themes. The Sinebrychoff Art Museum’s two particular treasures – Lucretia (1530) and Portrait of a Young Woman (1525) – were the starting point for conceiving the exhibition ‘Lucas Cranach – Renaissance Beauties’, and as is often the case, mounting the show provided an opportunity to publish up-to-date research for the exhibition catalogue.

Research on the two Cranach paintings carried out by the Conservation Unit of the Finnish National Gallery in the 1980s and 90s was quite extensive and used groundbreaking new techniques for its time. However, in the past year, as part of its preparation for show, the conservation unit started a new research project which involved examining the paintings, taking new images (including IR and X-ray images) and making non-destructive pigment analyses. The museum was then delighted when Professor Gunnar Heydenreich – who is head of the Cranach Digital Archive and widely considered to be the leading expert on Cranach’s workshop – agreed to make a fresh assessment of the two works in its collection. While the provenance of each of the works does not stretch as far back as its origins, Portrait of a Young Woman has been in the Finnish Art Society collection since 1851 and Lucretia had been in a private collection since the 1790s before the Sinebrychoff Art Museum acquired it in 1994.

Featured image: Gunnar Heydenreich examines Cranach’s Portrait of a Young Woman.
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Conservation Unit, Ari Tanhuanpää

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Installation view of the ‘Helene Schjerfbeck’ exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 20 July – 27 October, 2019 Photo: David Parry

Showing Schjerfbeck in London

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

The major survey exhibition of Helene Schjerfbeck at London’s Royal Academy of Arts, which travels to Helsinki in November, marks an important collaboration with the Ateneum Art Museum and has put Finland’s national treasure firmly on the wider European cultural map. Gill Crabbe met Jeremy Lewison, the lead curator of the exhibition in London, to discuss the significance of Schjerfbeck’s work and how he conceived the show for the Academy’s new gallery space

How did you come across the work of Helene Schjerfbeck?

I first saw her work in an exhibition called ‘Identity and Alterity’, organised by Jean Claire, at the Venice Biennale in 1995, and there were five self-portraits in that show. I remember being struck not only by the power of these portraits but also their imaginative quality and they just seemed to be very different and shocking in many ways – not all of them were late self-portraits, they ranged across her career. I thought, here is an artist I’d like to find out more about. I did nothing until after I had set up on my own and in the Nordic region I came across her work in different places and saw a survey show in Gothenburg around 2009–10. However, at that show I didn’t really have any sense of the coherence of her work and I was not so impressed. But I kept thinking there must be another way of looking at the work, especially as the self-portraits were so powerful, so I began to do my own research. When I was working on the Alice Neel show in Helsinki I was given a copy of the catalogue of the ‘Helene Schjerfbeck: 150 years’ celebration exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum (2012) and it was at that point I thought I could put together an interesting exhibition. It took a while to raise a wider interest in the project in London. Then in 2016 I asked if the Ateneum Art Museum would support my effort to organise an exhibition in London. Susanna Pettersson, then Director of the museum, was enthusiastic and I suggested that the Royal Academy of Arts would be the right place.

Why did you suggest the RA?

The Academy mounts both large survey shows in its Main Galleries and mid-scale exhibitions in the Sackler Wing of Galleries and in its new space, the Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries. Since Helene Schjerfbeck had a strong relationship to Old Master painting – and so historically does the RA – I thought the Academy could be an interesting context in which to show her work. I put together a presentation for RA Artistic Director Tim Marlow, curator Sarah Lea and exhibitions producer Andrea Tarsia and they were enthusiastic. That was in 2017. Then it had to go to the RA’s Exhibitions Committee – comprising mainly Royal Academicians – and they approved it. .

Featured image: Installation view of the ‘Helene Schjerfbeck’ exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 20 July – 27 October, 2019
Photo: David Parry

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Ellen Thesleff, Self-Portrait, 1894–95, pencil and sepia ink on paper, 31.50cm x 23.50cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Hidden Influences

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

The esoteric interests of Finland’s fin-de-siècle artists have been brought out of the darkness by two ­researchers, as Gill Crabbe discovered at a recent conference at the University of Turku

The Finnish painter Pekka Halonen stares intensely out from the canvas in his Self-Portrait of 1906, his face glowing with light; in sketches for the Jusélius Mausoleum near Pori, built by his friend the industrialist F.A. Jusélius to lay his young daughter to rest, Akseli Gallen-Kallela designs frescoes featuring vibrational waves in vivid orange and blue; Hugo Simberg paints a child enchanted by strange forms emerging from the darkness in Boy from Säkkijärvi (1897); Ellen Thesleff materialises herself from a deep sepia chiaroscuro resembling the spirit photography of her day. All highly regarded, even revered, artists from Finland’s Golden Age, all interested in esoteric influences that were part of a wider fascination in fashionable fin-de-siècle society across Europe.

Art-historical research has sometimes had an uneasy relationship with the theme of occultism in art. Esoteric influences on many artists in the art-historical canon have remained largely at the margins of academic research, or at worst ridiculed as flights of fancy. Now, however, with recent successful exhibitions such as that of the Swedish artist and medium Hilma af Klimt (1862–1944) at the Guggenheim Museum New York – the museum’s most popular exhibition to date – and with the current resurgence in interest in esoteric subjects by contemporary artists, as seen in some of the works in the Kiasma exhibition ‘Coexistence’ (until 1 March 2020), the presence of occulture in artistic output is something that researchers are starting to take more seriously.

Featured image: Ellen Thesleff, Self-Portrait, 1894–95, pencil and sepia ink on paper, 31.5cm x 23.5cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

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Elga Sesemann, Self-Portrait, 1946, oil on cardboard, 77cm x 68cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

Rooted in New Research

Interview by Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

The new Director of the Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki, Marja Sakari, discusses the importance of research in taking the museum forward both as an international player and at home

When Marja Sakari heard she had been selected to be Director of the Ateneum Art Museum, last Autumn, her response was unequivocal: ‘It’s great to be appointed as the Museum Director of Finland’s most well-known museum. I will follow the road paved by my predecessors, with a firm confidence in the experts at the Ateneum.’ The Ateneum is one of the three museums that together constitute the Finnish National Gallery, which is responsible for expanding and maintaining the largest art museum collection in Finland, owned by the state of Finland. The other two are the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma and the Sinebrychoff Art Museum.

In an age where globalisation is speeding up the trajectories of change exponentially, it is heartening to hear a major player in the international art museum field place her trust in the considerable benefits that have already been built up through dedicated practice and patiently won skills developed at the museum now entrusted to her care. In her opening post for her blog on the Ateneum website, she wrote: ‘I recently came across a quote by Hundertwasser when I was visiting the Kunst Haus Wien Museum: “If we do not respect our past, we will lose our future; if we destroy our roots, we cannot grow.” This idea also supports my own perception of the importance of the Ateneum’s art.’

Sakari’s own long career has seen her develop and deepen her skills, planting seeds both at home and internationally. These include major roles across both academia and the museum world, ranging from lecturer and acting Professor of Art History at the University of Helsinki, to becoming Director of the Finnish Institute in Paris, and Chief Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, where she presided over innovative projects that placed the museum at the forefront of presenting and collecting online and digital art. Now she has returned to the Ateneum  building, where she started out in the 1990s working in the Central Art Archives as a researcher with a project on ephemeral art. This research formed the basis for her PhD thesis on conceptual art in Finland from the 1970s until the postmodern 1990s, with reference to international conceptual art.

Featured image: Elga Sesemann, Self-Portrait, 1946, oil on cardboard, 77cm x 68cm.
Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

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Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Lemminkäinen's Mother, 1897, tempera on canvas, 85.5cm x 108.5 cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Akseli Gallen-Kallela: Beyond a National Icon

Interview by Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

As a new book on Akseli Gallen-Kallela is published, its author Dr. Marja Lahelma, describes the challenges of finding fresh interpretations of an artist who earned his reputation as a national hero in his home country

When Marja Lahelma’s book on Hugo Simberg was published last year as part of the Artists of the Ateneum series, it enjoyed such a positive reception that she was asked by the then Director of Ateneum Art Museum Susanna Petterson to write another book – this time on the great national hero of Finland’s Golden Age painters, Akseli Gallen-Kallela. This series of books initiated by the Finnish National Gallery aims to shed new light on the classics of Finnish art. For Lahelma, researching this second book presented different kinds of challenges to the one she wrote on Simberg.

The first challenge was a practical one: whereas with Simberg she had been able to comb through almost all of the material available relating to him during her research period, with Gallen-Kallela there was an overwhelming wealth of source material, and she had just eight months to produce her manuscript. This time frame meant that Lahelma would need to be selective with the materials she used and that selection process would need to be driven by a strong thematic approach.

The second challenge – and by far the greater of the two – was for Lahelma to find a way to look beyond the prevailing views and interpretations of an artist who, in terms of Finnish culture, achieved an iconic status, not only within Finnish art history but within Finnish society as a whole. Here was a man, credited as a national hero, whose art was a touchstone of Finland’s quest for its independent nationhood through the depiction of a national landscape and through an exploration of the mythic dimension of Finnishness in his narrative paintings of the epic poem The Kalevala. A man whose funeral in 1931 was attended by the great and the good of the country, and where ‘vast crowds lined the streets of Helsinki to pay their respects to an artist whose work had become the shared heritage of the entire Finnish nation’.[1]

[1] Susanna Pettersson, ‘Vision, Curiosity, and Thirst for Adventure (Introduction).’ In Artists of the Ateneum: Akseli Gallen-Kallela, by Marja Lahelma. Ateneum Publications Vol. 110. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, 2018, 6.

Featured image: Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Lemminkäinen’s Mother, 1897, tempera on canvas, 85.5cm x 108.5 cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

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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Nineteenth and 20thcentury plaster portraits from the Finnish National Gallery Collections displayed in the exhibition ‘I am not I – Famous and Forgotten Portraits’ at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Helsinki, in 2017 Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Riitta Ojanperä Issue No. 4/2018

Connecting Museum Collections with the Rest of the World

Interview by Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

As the Finnish National Gallery prepares to launch a new integrated website for its collections, artworks, objects and archival material, Gill Crabbe asks the key people behind the project about the implications for researchers and other users

The days when an art historian’s first port of call in accessing an art museum’s materials would be to walk through its doors and spend hours leafing through indexes, letters and artefacts, are fast disappearing. In today’s globalised, digitised world, the research community expects rapid accessibility, through interactive channels, both online and via social media. In fact one might even posit the question to the art research community, does an object exist if it is not available online? For institutions like art museums these issues present a huge challenge, simply because the vast volume of objects and related material they hold in their archives and collections means that a gargantuan effort is involved in transforming even a selected part of it into digital material.

The Finnish National Gallery’s recent release of more than 12,000 images of copyright-free artworks into the public domain as open-data has not only opened up the dissemination of its art collections internationally but also goes hand in hand with a much larger development of its entire collections management system that will see all of the collections – artworks, objects and archive collections – brought into a single database for the first time. This new updated database will feed into the FNG’s new collections online web pages to be launched next year. At present there are several ways to access various parts of the FNG collections and improving their online availability is a pivotal way to enhance research related to them.

Featured image: Artworks need metadata to support research into them. Nineteenth and 20th-century plaster portraits from the Finnish National Gallery Collections displayed in the exhibition ‘I am not I – Famous and Forgotten Portraits’ at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Helsinki, in 2017
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Riitta Ojanperä

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Louis Lagrenée the Elder, Pygmalion and His Statue, 1777, oil on canvas, 104cm x 86cm Antell Collections, Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Antti Kuivalainen

A Show of Emotion

Interview by Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

As the Sinebrychoff Art Museum prepares to stage an exhibition on painting and the theatre, Gill Crabbe meets the show’s curator Laura Gutman, to discuss the research she carried out in order to bring this topic to life

Meeting the independent curator Laura Gutman is like meeting a detective. As curator of several shows in Finland, where she moved from Paris 17 years ago, including the recent acclaimed ‘Air de Paris’ exhibition at Helsinki Art Museum (HAM), she has used her research skills and background studying art history under Guy Cogeval at the Ecole du Louvre in Paris in the 1990s to impressive effect in Finland. Not only has she been making intriguing connections between Finnish artists and their European counterparts, but also deepening understanding of European artworks in Finnish collections. It is a busy year for Gutman as she is now in the final stages of preparing a show on theatre and painting from the 17th to early 20th centuries titled ‘Moved to Tears: Staging Emotions’ at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum in Helsinki.

The museum is an appropriate setting for such a subject as it is the house of the collector Paul Sinebrychoff, whose wife Fanny Grahn was herself an actress, and their rooms on the first floor are laid out almost as a series of theatrical sets, each reflecting a period from his collection. The theme of the Sinebrychoff exhibition which is held in the galleries on the ground floor, is also a subject close to Gutman’s heart, since at the Ecole du Louvre she studied the theoretical and philosophical background to painting and theatre ‘from David to Degas’. After having attended a performance in Helsinki with Finnish singer Minna Nyberg, she has developed a particular interest in the use of Baroque gesture in the fine arts.

Featured image: Louis Lagrenée the Elder, Pygmalion and his Statue, 1777, oil on canvas, 104cm x 86cm, Antell Collections, Finnish National Gallery, Sinebrychoff Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Antti Kuivalainen

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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‘Moved to Tears: Staging Emotions’, Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Helsinki, 13 September 2018 – 3 March 2019

An Ecstacy of Beauty. Finnish Artists Travelling Beyond Europe 1882-1926. Online exhibition in Europeana. Screen capture of the front page.

Tapping in to Europe’s Digital Cultural Heritage

Interview by Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

We transform the world with culture’ is the motto of the Europeana Foundation, Europe’s largest digital platform for cultural heritage, where FNG’s Archive and Library Manager/Chief Curator Hanna-Leena Paloposki spent two months on a unique residency working at its headquarters in The Hague

As art experiences for the general public expand increasingly beyond the walls of art museums, online collections and online art exhibitions are offering a new kind of accessibility to artworks in the 21st century. Now, not only can you access a vast array of curated cultural material such as image galleries, podcasts and exhibition tasters through art museums’ own web pages, but international cultural organisations are also offering portals and platforms for important cultural material that are proving invaluable, not only for the art-loving public, but also for researchers and art professionals. One such organisation is the Europeana Foundation, and if you visit the Europeana Collections homepage, you will find an online exhibition, ‘An Ecstasy of Beauty’, which explores the travels made by Finnish artists from 1882 to 1926 and how their journeys influenced their art. Thus visitors from across the world can discover, perhaps for the first time, Finland’s key artists of the period, such as Akseli Gallen-Kallela, who travelled in Africa, and Hugo Simberg, who journeyed to the Caucasus to visit his engineer brother.

The EU’s commitment to creating a digital European library to make Europe’s cultural heritage available to all, led to the creation of the Europeana Foundation and website in 2008, which in 2010 provided access to around 10 million digital objects – today that figure has risen to 51 million – through the contributions of more than 3,000 cultural institutions mostly from across Europe. Besides being a portal, it is a platform and publishes curated online exhibitions and thematic collections, as well as raising awareness of its content through active engagement with social media. The Finnish National Gallery joined Europeana many years ago, sharing a large part of its art collections online.

As part of its continuing commitment to international co-operation and networking, in 2016 the Finnish National Gallery launched a work exchange residency scheme for its employees to fund them for periods of up to two months to work in organisations abroad. So when Hanna-Leena Paloposki, Archives and Library Manager / Chief Curator at the Finnish National Gallery was awarded a residency, her manager Riitta Ojanperä, Director of FNG Collections Management, made an inspired suggestion that she apply to work at Europeana, because the development of the collections online is one of the main tasks of the department. Having successfully arranged a work exchange, Paloposki found herself last autumn working at Europeana’s headquarters in The Hague. The online exhibition ‘An Ecstasy of Beauty’, which is part of Europeana’s dedicated online exhibitions platform, is just one result of the time she spent there.

Featured image: ‘An Ecstasy of Beauty. Finnish Artists Travelling Beyond Europe 1882–1926’. Online exhibition in Europeana. Screen capture of the front page

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Hugo Simberg, Garden of Death 1896, watercolour and gouache on paper, mounted on etching paper, 15.8 x 17.5cm, Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jouko Könönen

New Perspectives on Hugo Simberg’s Contribution to Symbolism

Interview by Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

One of Finland’s great fin-de siècle artists, Hugo Simberg, is less well known abroad, yet his travels in Europe, argues Marja Lahelma in her new book on the artist, had a more extensive impact on his work than had been previously thought

The shared goal of the Finnish National Gallery with its three museums – Ateneum Art Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma and Sinebrychoff Art Museum – is to facilitate and actively generate new approaches to the body of research on the most well-known artists in Finnish art history and in the museum’s collections. The book series Artists of the Ateneum invites some of the best experts in the field to contribute in this work. The second book in the series focuses on Hugo Simberg (1873–1917).

When art historian Dr. Marja Lahelma was invited to write the book on Simberg for this series, she was given six months to research and turn in her manuscript. This might seem a tight deadline, particularly as Lahelma concedes she did not consider herself an expert on the artist. However, the result is a concise, comprehensive book that takes a fresh look at one of Finland’s most unusual and highly regarded artists of the fin-de-siècle period.

Lahelma is no stranger to this period in Nordic art history and her credentials show she was well placed to undertake this project. ‘My PhD thesis was on the dynamics of self and art in the fin de siècle – I had also delivered a conference paper on the connections between the work of Hans Holbein and Hugo Simberg, and the Ateneum Art Museum wanted a book that offered a fresh perspective on Simberg.’

Featured image: Hugo Simberg, The Garden of Death, 1896, watercolour and gouache on paper, mounted on etching paper, 15.8 x 17.5cm, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jouko Könönen

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Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, The Rape of the Sabine Women, c. 1718–1719, oil on canvas, 43.5 x 74cm Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jouko Könönen

Every Picture Has a Story

Interview by Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

As the Sinebrychoff Art Museum embarks on a research project in preparation for an exhibition of paintings by the Tiepolos, Chief Curator Dr. Ira Westergård talks to Gill Crabbe about the importance of provenance research in art-historical practice

Provenance research is an increasingly important aspect of art-historical research within art museums, not just in terms of acquisitions but also in maintaining the quality of their collections and strengthening their loan activities, as well as contributing to the wider canon of academic knowledge. Good museum practice includes a concept of stewardship that extends to an active commitment to developing an ever deepening understanding of the objects in their care.

There are trends in art-history practice just as there are trends in how art itself is collected and displayed. Today the importance of provenance research is affected not only by an increasing interest in exploring the contextual history of art objects, but also by concerns since the late-20th century surrounding the legality of ownership and the expropriation of cultural property, as well as of course the processes of attribution and authentication of an artwork. In the past century in particular, many important works of art, especially Old Masters, have been dispersed in museums and private collections all around the world, so the trend for current art-historical exhibitions is also to reunite artworks that are considered to have been closely linked, in order to learn more about an artist’s oeuvre.

So it is timely that the Sinebrychoff Art Museum is currently reviewing the provenance of two of its paintings in preparation for an exhibition focusing on the interest of collectors in the art of the Tiepolos in late-18th and 19th-century Northern Europe. ‘We aim to clarify that the archival documents already known are correct and to see what more can be found,’ explains Ira Westergård, Chief Curator at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum, who is heading up the provenance research project on its two Tiepolo paintings, The Rape of the Sabine Women by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696–1770) and Greeks Entering Troy by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (1727–1804). ‘We want to go further and look into a wider range of archives. We also want to look into the provenance from the starting point of the works – that is a part of the provenance that has yielded very little documentation so far. One of the aims of this exhibition is to look at how these paintings from the 18th century travelled from the art market to collections and thence to public collections in Europe.’

Featured image: Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, The Rape of the Sabine Women, c. 1718–19, oil on canvas, 43.5cm x 74cm. Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jouko Könönen

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