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.
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). 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. 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.
 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.’
 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.
 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.
 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
Read more — Download ‘Dreams of Monumental Works’, by Juha-Heikki Tihinen, as a PDF