Ilya Repin’s first letter to the Finnish Art Society, undated, 1919. Minutes 1917–20. The Archives of the Finnish Art Society. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

Sources for Ilya Repin Researchers in the Archive Collections of the Finnish National Gallery

Helena Hätönen, MA, Curator, Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery

This text is based on the article ‘Sources for Ilya Repin’s Researchers in the Finnish Central Archives’, first published in the exhibition catalogue Repin: A Russian Master’s Life and Work in Finland. Tallinn: Art Museum of Estonia – Kadriorg Art Museum, 2013. Transl. from Finnish to Estonian by Meelis Lainvoo and from Estonian to English by Juta Ristsoo

Documentary materials related to the painter Ilya Repin (1844–1930), starting from 1910, are stored in the Archive Collections of the Finnish National Gallery.[1] Along with specialised art-historical archives and documents, these collections include photos and other pictorial material, audiovisual recordings, literature and newspaper articles related to and associated with the fine arts.[2]

The oldest material in the Archive Collections is based on the collections of the Finnish National Gallery’s earliest predecessor – the Finnish Art Society, which was the administrative arm of the fine arts scene in Finland between 1846 and 1939. These collections became the responsibility of the Fine Arts Academy of Finland Foundation, inaugurated in 1940. The Foundation became a state-owned museum, the Finnish National Gallery in 1990 and, at that time, the Central Art Archives was established along with the other museum departments. In 2014, the National Gallery was reconstituted as a foundation and the functions of the Central Art Archives were included in the new Department of Collections Management.

Ilya Repin’s ties with Finland became stronger when, at the beginning of the 1900s, he started coming from St Petersburg to visit the holiday destination of Kuokkala at Kivennapa, in Vyborg County on the Karelian Isthmus. As a result the Finnish press started to pay more attention to Repin, who was a famous professor at Russia’s Imperial Academy of Arts. In 1897 the Finnish Art Society started to document the fine arts scene and began a press cuttings collection. At first, it was limited to a few Swedish-language newspapers in Finland, but gradually spread to publications throughout the country. The information on Ilya Repin in the press cuttings collection in today’s Finnish National Gallery dates back to 1906, when Repin’s studio was completed as an annex to Penates, his summer house in Kuokkala.[3]

[1] The original text for this article was produced by the Central Art Archives, a department of the Finnish National Gallery from 1990–2013. The writer has now updated the contents to correspond to the current situation in the Archive Collections of the Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki.

[2] By 2021, approximately 215 separate archives, most of them acquired as donations, have been assembled in the Archive Collections of the Finnish National Gallery.

[3] ‘Den berömda ryska målaren’, Nya Pressen, 7 July 1906. Scrapbook V. Press cuttings collection. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki (AC, FNG).

Featured image: Detail of Ilya Repin’s first letter to the Finnish Art Society, undated, 1919. Minutes 1917–20. The Archives of the Finnish Art Society. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

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First page of Helene Schjerfbeck’s letter to Martha Neiglick-Platonoff, Saltsjöbaden, Sweden 20 August 1944. Helene Schjerfbeck’s letters to Martha Neiglick-Platonoff. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

New Donation of Helene Schjerfbeck Letters to the Finnish National Gallery

Helena Hätönen, MA, Curator, Archives and Library, Finnish National Gallery

The Archive Collections of the Finnish National Gallery received an interesting addition to its collection of artists’ letters recently, when a private individual donated eight letters written by painter Helene (Elli) Schjerfbeck (1862–1946) that had been in the possession of the donor’s family. The letters relate to the last years of Schjerfbeck’s life, when she was in Sweden, from the summer of 1944 to the summer of 1945. Schjerfbeck was staying in Saltsjöbaden’s spa hotel where she still painted whenever her health permitted.

The recipient of the donated letters was her second cousin, artist Martha Neiglick-Platonoff (1889–1964). Schjerfbeck’s mother and Neiglick’s maternal grandmother were sisters. The War Censors had opened and examined half of the letters. The recipient’s Russian surname probably affected the matter. The censorship practice was obviously known to the author as well. The contents of the letters are summarised and restrained, and many things are alluded to rather than made explicit.

Martha Neiglick had studied, like Helene Schjerfbeck, at the Finnish Art Society’s Drawing School and later abroad. She had remained a widow following the death of her spouse, the Russian naval captain, Lieutenant Igor Platonoff (1887–1921). To Helene Schjerfbeck, Martha Platonoff was both a relative and an artist colleague.

The donated letters date from the time of the Continuation War’s intensification in the summer 1944, and it is because of this that Schjerfbeck had moved to a more secure residence in Sweden. Martha Platonoff was staying in the Finnish countryside to escape the Russian bombardments. Her only offspring, Lieutenant Stephan Platonoff (1917–44) – who was also a Master of Arts – had crashed at the Finnish front line in the Battle of Ihantala on the Karelian Isthmus at the end of June that year. The event is never mentioned in the letters, but it is made apparent through the themes of fear, mourning and loss contained in them.

The letters will be made available to researchers after they have received due conservation. One of the letters, written on 20 August 1944, is now published in digital format in FNG Research. To access it, click the link below.

Featured image: First page of Helene Schjerfbeck’s letter to Martha Neiglick-Platonoff, Saltsjöbaden, Sweden, 20 August 1944. Helene Schjerfbeck’s letters to Martha Neiglick-Platonoff. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

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