Katariina Johde, Conservator, BA, and Hanne Tikkala, MA, PhD Student, Senior Researcher, Conservation Unit, Finnish National Gallery
A museum visitor observes an artwork on a museum wall on average for a few seconds or minutes. The conservator quickly checks the condition of a painting before and after every exhibition to make sure the condition has remained unchanged during the exhibition. The condition report, with detailed drawings, descriptions and photos, takes perhaps half an hour to make. Would new and noticeable information come to light if one were able to look at the painting for hours with bare eyes, microscopes, in different electromagnetic wavelengths, with different instruments and cameras?
In our day-to-day work as a conservator and a materials researcher, we make observations of the structure and the surface of the paintings in more detail than a regular viewer. In this article we present some aspects regarding the painting technique and the materials of the Finnish artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s (1865-1931) painting Lake View, from 1901 (Fig. 1). Usually, this painting is exhibited in the main collection exhibition in the Ateneum Art Museum and is a very popular work that draws in our museum visitors. In recent years it has often been loaned to exhibitions in Finland and around Europe. Every time it has returned to the Ateneum the research has continued and as a result the painting has been studied very carefully, especially over the past two years.
Originally, we decided to study Lake View more deeply because of its beautiful and informative radiograph (Fig. 2). We had already X-rayed a large number of Gallen-Kallela’s works but as we were analysing the radiograph of Lake View, we started to recognise characteristic features in the brushwork, which appeared repeatedly in his paintings. The radiograph and other analytical photographs of the painting were very illuminating and strengthened our understanding of the artist’s painting technique. However, important new information was also found just by looking at the painting very closely with the naked eye. Markings on the edges and on the reverse of the painting gave us information which led us to visit the archives and to investigate his original painting materials.
 Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Lake View, oil on canvas, 84cm x 57cm, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, A-2010-173.
Featured image: Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Lake View, 1901, oil on canvas, 84cm x 57cm, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen
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