Magnus Enckell, sketch for Bird of Paradise, 1925, watercolour on paper, 47cm x 68cm. Antell Collections, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

Magnus Enckell’s Dreams of Monumental Works

Juha-Heikki Tihinen, PhD, Curator, Pro Artibus Foundation / Adjunct professor, University of Helsinki

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

When we have reached the innermost room, the dividing walls will certainly collapse. Our eyes will see everything; our heart will regain everything. Then time will no longer exist.[1]

In the late 19th century, the notion of the Gesamtkunstwerk (‘total work of art’) gained great popularity and began to attract increasing numbers of artists, both the young and the more experienced. The young Magnus Enckell was also aware that monumental art was topical and he dreamt of creating his own. Enckell’s vision was fulfilled many times over, as he was able to realise monumental works in a number of churches, as well as a temple of science, the University of Helsinki library (now the National Library).

Enckell’s first monumental work was the Gethsemane altarpiece for Savitaipale Church in 1902, followed by The Golden Age for the library in 1904, the Resurrection altarpiece fresco for St John’s Church (now Tampere Cathedral) in 1907, the staircase paintings for the Nylands Nation building (1913 and 1920) and stained-glass paintings for Pori Church (unveiled posthumously in 1925).[2] Enckell could also be considered a successful artist based on his monumental works, as monumental art had gained great popularity. For instance, in a famous essay from 1891 the French critic Albert Aurier called for Paul Gauguin to be given walls to paint.[3] According to the art historian Hans Belting, the concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk represented an effort to bring back art as a collective experience rather than art as an object of individual aesthetic pleasure.[4]

[1] Juha-Heikki Tihinen. ‘Identiteettien lähteillä − Magnus Enckellin luonnoskirjan tarkastelua’, in Susanna Aaltonen and Hanne Selkokari (eds.), Identiteettejä – Identiter. Renja Suominen-Kokkosen juhlakirja. Taidehistoriallisia tutkimuksia 45. Helsinki: Taidehistorian seura, 2013, 92−93 (translated into Finnish); Juha-Heikki Tihinen. Halun häilyvät rajat: Magnus Enckellin teosten maskuliinisuuksien ja feminiinisyyksien representaatioista ja itsen luomisesta. Taidehistoriallisia tutkimuksia 37. Helsinki: Taidehistorian seura, 2008, 127: ‘Då vi har hunnit i det innersta rummet, då skola säkert skiljoväggarna falla ned. Vårt öga skall se alt, vårt hjärta får alt igen. Då finnes tiden ej mera.’

[2] Juha-Heikki Tihinen. ‘Thinly veiled desire – Magnus Enckell’s Portrayal of Men’, in Juha-Heikki Tihinen & Jari Björklöv (eds.), Magnus Enckell 1870–1925. Helsinki: Helsingin kaupungin taidemuseo, 2000, 124−30.

[3] Albert Aurier. ‘Symbolism in painting: Paul Gauguin’ (1891), in Henri Dorra, Symbolist Art Theories. A Critical Anthology. Berkley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1994, 203.

[4] Hans Belting. The Invisible Masterpiece. Trans. Helen Atkins. London: Reaktion Books Ltd, 2001, 203.

Featured image: Magnus Enckell, sketch for Bird of Paradise, 1925, watercolour on paper, 47cm x 68cm. Antell Collections, 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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The interior of Seppo Fränti’s apartment, 23 February 2018 Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Moomin-like Joy and the Seppo Fränti Art Collection

Juha-Heikki Tihinen, PhD, Art Historian

Also published in Saara Hacklin and Kati Kivinen (eds.), Hullu rakkaus / Galen kärlek / Mad Love. The Seppo Fränti Collection at Kiasma. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 170/2020. Helsinki: PARVS, 2020. Transl. Eva Malkki

‘Suddenly he felt so happy that he had to be alone. He strolled off towards the woodshed. And when nobody could see him any longer he broke into a run. He ran through the melting snow, with the sun warming his back. He ran simply because he was happy, with nothing at all to think about.’[1]

Art collections and the act of collecting often bear a significant emotional content, for with the collection the collector builds their own little cosmos, through which they can express intense feelings. In 2016, the art collector Seppo Fränti described the emotions he felt in his home when surrounded in every direction by art: ‘It is wonderful; I am like the Moomintroll, imbibing a Moomin-like atmosphere. I love to be surrounded by all this. Sometimes I might shriek a bit like Little My if I feel like it.’[2] This quote can best be understood by looking at pictures of Fränti’s home when it had been taken over by art and one could only move along narrow corridors between artworks. The collector’s home was literally covered in art, which took up every surface. The apartment was somewhat reminiscent of the Merzbau, a sculptural structure by German artist Kurt Schwitters (1887–1948) that filled five of the eight rooms in the artist’s home in Hannover and grew organically as Schwitters picked up objects and materials around the city to add to the installation. Seppo Fränti’s collection started off as pictures hung on walls but later grew organically to fill the whole space.

Fränti’s collection is fascinating because it presents a compilation of the art he has chosen according to his preferences and that he experienced as being significant. The collection donated to Kiasma comprises some 650 works[3], the earliest of which Fränti acquired at the end of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s.[4] The collection is not intended as an all-encompassing historical portrayal of the art of the period; instead, it is an experiential interpretation of some of the phenomena in contemporary art. The central aspects of the Fränti Collection are a fascination with contemporary art and the collector’s personal relationship with almost all of the artists. The Seppo Fränti Collection is not homogeneous; in fact, it is startlingly heterogeneous and it is not always easy for an outsider to follow the collector’s logic.

[1] Jansson, Tove, 1988. Taikatalvi. Translated into Finnish by Laila Järvinen. Helsinki: WSOY, 132. Excerpt in English from Moominland Midwinter, transl. Thomas Warburton.

[2] Tihinen, Juha-Heikki, 2016. Häpeämättömästi taiteen puolesta – Seppo Fräntin kokoelma. Helsinki: The Lapinlahden Lähde Project & Mental Health Finland, 20.

[3] The collection’s growth rate has been startling, as at the time of the first exhibition in Lapinlahden Lähde in 2016, the collection as a whole comprised around 500 works.

[4] Tihinen, Häpeämättömästi taiteen puolesta, 11.

Featured image: The interior of Seppo Fränti’s apartment, 23 February 2018
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

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