Albert Edelfelt, The Luxembourg Gardens, Paris, 1887, oil on canvas, 141.5cm x 186.5cm Antell Collections, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

Albert Edelfelt – The Golden Boy of Finnish Art

Anne-Maria Pennonen, PhD, curator and Hanne Selkokari, PhD, curator, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum

Also published in French as ‘Albert Edelfelt, fils prodige de l’art finlandais’, in Anne-Charlotte Cathelineau (ed.), Albert Edelfelt. Lumières de Finlande. Paris: Paris Musées, 2022, p. 31–40, and in English in the Albert Edelfelt exhibition catalogue by the Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, in Spring 2023. Transl. Wif Stenger

A Finnish or French artist?

When Albert Edelfelt (1854–1905) went to Paris to study in 1874 as a young artist, there were high hopes for him – and indeed he lived up to those expectations. Early overviews of Finnish art have highlighted Edelfelt’s victories and success, but also the contradictions in his art. Edelfelt’s teacher, Adolf von Becker (1831–1909), firmly believed that Paris was the only place to learn to paint. Von Becker wanted to finally free Finnish art from a German ‘pleasantness and leash of contemplation’ and instead tie it to the great movements and trends of art.[1] Edelfelt followed his teacher’s advice after spending a year studying history painting in Antwerp (1873–74). He became a role model, helping to spread the teachings of the ‘French school’ among Finnish artists, according to the art historian Eliel Aspelin (1847–1917), who knew Edelfelt when he was young.[2]

According to Johannes Öhqvist (1861–1949), a versatile German-speaking cultural journalist, the French school had taught Edelfelt a cool, scientific matter-of-factness that sharpened his mind, enabling him to see reality more clearly.[3] At the same time, however, Edelfelt was seen as a paradoxical figure in his homeland, where there were doubts as to whether he was a portrayer of folk life or a salon painter. For Edelfelt, Paris was the centre of the art world. He was ready to help and support his compatriots who made their way to the city, serving as a skilful support for them and as a strong role model on the path towards naturalism and realism.[4]

However, the leaders of the Finnish art establishment found the French influence in the arts a constant source of irritation. On the one hand, they understood the value of Paris and the professionalism and ideas that it generated, but there was also a desire to create through them something genuine, a purely national art in Finland.[5]

In 1902, the younger generation of critics praised Edelfelt as versatile and acknowledged him as the best-known Finnish artist on the continent.[6] He was an artist ‘who has no national prejudices and whose perception and technique are cosmopolitan. […] a thoroughly sophisticated artist whose cultivation is both innate and acquired.’[7] According to the architect and critic Jac. Ahrenberg (1847–1914), though, Edelfelt represented Finnish art’s ‘Swedish element’ in line with ‘his race, blood, family background, upbringing and spirit’.[8]

[1] Johannes Öhqvist. Suomen taiteen historia. Helsinki: Kustannusosakeyhtiö Kirja, 1912, 330.

[2] Eliel Aspelin. Suomalaisen taiteen historia pääpiirteissään. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 1891, 81. In 1915, Aspelin published his Edelfelt memoirs I–V and his correspondence in his book Muoto- ja muistikuvia II (Helsinki: Otava).

[3] Öhqvist, Suomen taiteen historia, 348−49.

[4] Riitta Konttinen. Sammon takojat. Nuoren Suomen taiteilijat ja suomalaisuuden kuvat. Helsinki: Otava, 2001, 62−63, 65−67.

[5] Aspelin, Suomalaisen taiteen historia pääpiirteissään, 81−84; Öhqvist, Suomen taiteen historia.

[6] Gustaf Strengell. ‘Albert Edelfelt’, Euterpe 1902:1, (2−6) 2.

[7] Gustaf Strengell. ‘Albert Edelfelt: taiteilijariemujuhla’, Valvoja 1904:7−8, 417−41.

[8] Jac. Ahrenberg. ‘Edelfelts utställning’, Finsk Tidskrift 1902:1, 310−12; Öhqvist, Suomen taiteen historia, 330−35; Konttinen, Sammon takojat, 67.

Featured image: Albert Edelfelt, The Luxembourg Gardens, Paris, 1887, oil on canvas, 141.5cm x 186.5cm. Antell Collections, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen
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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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

Albert Edelfelt’s Artworks in the Ateneum Art Museum’s Collection and His Role as an Art Expert and Intermediary

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.[1] 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.

[1] 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
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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Hugo Simberg, Spring Evening, Ice Break, 1897, oil on canvas, 27cm x 37cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Finnish Landscapes on Tour

As the Finnish National Gallery takes an exhibition of Finnish landscape to the United States, Anu Utriainen and Hanne Selkokari from the Ateneum Art Museum discuss its themes with Leslie Anderson of the National Nordic Museum in Seattle to gain a deeper insight and context for the show.

This interview is originally made for and published in Nordic Kultur 2021/22, the Magazine of the National Nordic Museum, Seattle

The exhibition ‘Among Forests and Lakes: Landscape Masterpieces from the Finnish National Gallery’, which opens at the National Nordic Museum in May 2021[1], examines on a wide scale how Finnish artists have depicted the landscape of their native country. The show spans a period of over 100 years from the 1850s to the 1970s, and includes Finnish landscapes from the coast and archipelago in the south to the fells of Lapland and the Arctic Ocean in the North. It celebrates the sophistication of the Finnish art establishment and the concurrent development of the landscape genre through more than 50 paintings, prints, and video art.

The exhibition includes a range of landscape depictions, from idealised views completed in the artist’s studio to realistic scenes painted en plein air and visual expressions of the landscape in a modern artistic language. Organised into four themes, the exhibition also considers the role that landscapes played in the creation of a nation and a national identity.

International research projects and exhibitions form a significant part of the Finnish National Gallery’s operations, both in Europe and overseas. The Ateneum Art Museum has previously worked with Scandinavia House in New York, which served as the first venue of the FNG’s Modern Woman project in 2017. Since then, the show has been exhibited in several cities in Europe as well as further afield in Tokyo.

[1] https://www.nordicmuseum.org/exhibition/forestsandlakes

Featured image: Hugo Simberg, Spring Evening, Ice Break, 1897,
oil on canvas, 27cm x 37cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen
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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Magnus Enckell, sketch for a Petition by the Finnish Art Society, undated, watercolour on paper, 12cm x 33cm, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Henri Tuomi

Enckell for Artists – Associations, Support, Acquisitions

Hanne Selkokari, 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. Don McCracken

In addition to his career as an artist, Magnus Enckell made a significant contribution to the Artists’ Association of Finland and the Finnish Art Society’s Commission and Scholarship Committee, and here he was able to influence both the status of artists and acquisitions for the national art collection. At the same time, in the 1910s, Enckell’s closest peer friends and allies held the most important posts in the art field: Yrjö Hirn was a professor of aesthetics, Sigurd Frosterus a critic, art expert and collector; and the architect Gustaf Strengell and then the art historian Torsten Stjernschantz served as the Finnish Art Society chief curators responsible for acquisitions and the exhibitions policy.[1]

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