Catalogue de l’Exposition d’Artistes Français et Belges, Helsingfors 1904. The catalogue for the exhibition of Franco-Belgian art organised at the Ateneum in 1904. The artworks and the prices are listed in the catalogue, e.g. Monet (nos. 40 and 41), Pissarro and Puvis de Chavannes. Finnish National Gallery Library Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

Echoes of Impressionism in Finland

Marja Sakari, PhD, Director, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum

Also published in Sointu Fritze and Lene Wahlsten (eds.), Colour & Light – The Legacy of Impressionism. Ateneum Publications Vol. 169. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, 2023, 51–65. Transl. Wif Stenger

Worst of all was a corner that contained landscape paintings, each smudgier than the last, because they all looked as if the artist had squeezed a lot of colour into the palette and then slapped it onto the canvas, repeating the operation until the painting was finished. It had a sickening effect on me, not figuratively but in a physical sense.[1]

Letter from Helena Westermarck to her aunt Alexandra Blomqvist, 30 April 1880

In the late 19th century, nearly all professional Finnish artists headed to Paris. There, in the world’s art capital, they confronted everything new that was developing in the visual arts – including Impressionism. However, in the 1800s, none of the Finnish artists joined this movement that radically changed the art world, nor did many other Nordic artists. One of the central starting points of the ‘Colour & Light’ exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum is the question of why the effects of Impressionism were not seen in Finnish art until the first two decades of the 20th century.

Finnish artists of the day, such as the influential Albert Edelfelt, did however recognise the impact of Impressionism. In a series of articles accompanying a major exhibition of French and Belgian art that opened at the Ateneum in early 1904, Edelfelt wrote that Impressionism had affected almost all painters in some way, although, in his view, the movement itself was already history: ‘Other movements have come and gone – such as so-called Symbolism, but what is certain is that the Impressionist painters have taken art forward by a considerable step and that all of us who use a brush have learnt a lot from them.’[2] This exhibition of Franco-Belgian art, which took place 119 years ago, is one of the starting points for theColour & Light’ exhibition and the subject of my article. The 1904 exhibition was part of the process that led to the brightening of the palette of almost all Finnish artists in the 1910s.[3]

[1] Helena Westermarck’s letter to Alexandra (Sanny) Blomqvist, 30 April 1880. Blomqvist collection. National Library of Finland, Helsinki. The original letter has been lost.

[2] Albert Edelfelt. ‘Den fransk-belgiska utställningen i Ateneum’, Helsingfors-Posten, 30 January1904.

[3] Earlier, a 1901 exhibition of French art at the Ateneum focused on naturalism and more traditional art. Although it featured the likes of Monet, Pissarro, Renoir and Sisley, they were barely mentioned by the critics. The main attention was on artists who represented more traditional painting, e.g. Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret, Jean-Léon Gérôme, Carolus-Durand, who are lesser-known today. See J.J. Tikkanen. ‘Franska konstutställningen i Ateneum’, Hufvudstadsbladet, 6 October 1901; ‘Kirjallisuutta ja taidetta: Ranskalaisten taiteilijain näyttely’, Uusi Suometar, 21 September 1901; ‘Kirjallisuutta ja taidetta: Ranskalainen taidenäyttely Helsinkiin’, Mikkelin Sanomat, 25 July 1901.

Featured image: Catalogue de l’Exposition d’Artistes Français et Belges, Helsingfors 1904. The catalogue for the exhibition of Franco-Belgian art organised at the Ateneum in 1904. The artworks and the prices are listed in the catalogue, e.g. Monet (nos. 40 and 41), Pissarro and Puvis de Chavannes.
Finnish National Gallery Library
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

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Lars-Gunnar Nordström, Blue Moment, 1948–49, colour woodcut, 26.5cm x 40cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

Editorial: Fresh Insights from a New Look at our National Collections

Marja Sakari, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum


3 April, 2023


As I write this Editorial, the Ateneum Art Museum is about to reopen. Following a year of renovation work the museum will look different; in addition to replacing the entire air-conditioning system, we have renovated the public spaces in the basement with a new-look museum shop and other services in the court area, a new toilet area and newly organised tickethall. The grand staircase has been repainted and cleaned; the Ateneum auditorium has a new technical equipment and the workshop a new interior design.

This renovation period also gave us the opportunity to rework the collection display and we reopen the museum with our new collection exhibition ‘A Question of Time’. This thematic display aims to challenge the way in which the collection of the Finnish National Gallery has traditionally been viewed. Instead of the usual chronological approach, ‘A Question of Time’ presents the collection through four themes – The Age of Nature, Images of a People, Modern Life and Art and Power – that range across different eras and draw on today’s burning issues. There are questions hovering in the background. How has the Ateneum collection been built up over the years? How can it be a collection for everyone? In this edition of FNG Research we present the collection display through the lens of an interview with Anne-Maria Pennonen and Mariia Niskavaara, the two curators of the theme The Age of Nature which we have chosen as the most urgent issue of our time to be foregrounded in ‘A Question of Time’.

A new biography in English about the art and life of Helene Schjerfbeck also challenges the traditional view of one of Finland’s most beloved artists. Art historian Marja Lahelma’s online book Helene Schjerfbeck: An Artist’s Life is published alongside this edition of FNG Research.

Our spring edition highlights two exhibition projects, namely the upcoming Albert Edelfelt exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum and the current exhibition and research project on Alexander Lauréus, held at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum. Two articles are dedicated to Edelfelt. First, in ‘A Discovered Painting: Albert Edelfelts Study for Woman from Arles, the art historian Laura Gutman spotlights a painting that was not known before and had not been mentioned in Bertel Hintze’s authoritative catalogue raisonné. In her complementary article, ‘How Albert Edelfelt’s Portrait of Mme Dani Turned into Study for Woman from Arles, Tuulikki Kilpinen analyses the same painting from the conservator’s viewpoint.

Turning to the Sinebrychoff Art Museum’s programme, Gill Crabbe sheds light on a project that led to the current exhibition of Alexander Lauréus, in an interview with the curators Ira Westergård and Lotta Nylund, whose doctoral thesis on Lauréus has been the research base for the show.

The philosophical questions behind conservation and restoration form the subject of Ari Tanhuanpää’s article ‘On the Will of Preservation’, also in this issue. The concerns he contemplates are especially pertinent today, not least when the cultural heritage of Ukraine is being destroyed in the wake of hideous war.

While Ari Tanhuanpää’s article differs in subject from Tuulikki Kilpinen’s, both underline different aspects of the importance of conservation. Kilpinen’s case study shows how essential it can be to collaborate with art historians in the process of authenticating an artwork. Together with Laura Gutman’s research we can now prove that the painting sold in 2019 at an auction in Paris is an authentic work by Albert Edelfelt. In addition, the painting, which was earlier considered to be a portrait of Mme Dani, is in fact a study (1891–93) for Edelfelt’s painting Woman from Arles (1893).

Tanhuanpää’s philosophical and deep pondering upon the meaning and premises of conservation is an important statement for the preservation of culture in general. In introducing the ideas of Cesare Brandi, who bases his thinking on semiotics and phenomenology, Tanhuanpää points to the importance of considering an artwork as more than its materials and how it should thus be safeguarded. The art object remains self-identical across time, even if damaged by time. And it is just there that conservation is needed, to maintain the authenticity and originality of the object’s ontological essence. It means preserving an artwork’s pure form. This, according to Tanhuanpää, is a paradox as artworks are mostly materials and a conservator is dealing mainly with materials. But while taking care of its materials, a conservator succeeds at the same time in maintaining the essence of the piece. From there comes the imperative to maintain the materials for as long as possible. Tanhuanpää discusses whether the Kantian categorical imperative from which Brandi derives his thinking can be applied to conservation.

When I read the interview with Mariia Niskavaara and Anne-Maria Pennonen alongside Ari Tanhuanpää’s article, somehow they seem to be connected. Both address the meaning of safeguarding art, to make us remember and but also to make us witnesses in time. The points both these articles make are basically the same. While conserving artworks we, as humans, have the chance to prevent something spiritually and intellectually invaluable from disappearing, in the same way that with the theme of The Age of Nature, the museum attempts to contribute to activities that could slow down climate change and ultimately avert catastrophe.

Finally, we are delighted to announce the results of the selection process of our two research interns for 2023. We look forward to publishing the outcomings of their research next year.

Featured image: Lars-Gunnar Nordström, Blue Moment, 1948–49, colour woodcut, 26.5cm x 40cm.  Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

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Albert Edelfelt, From St. Cloud Park, Paris, 1905, oil on canvas, 65cm x 81.5cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

Editorial: Merging Past and Present

Marja Sakari, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum


22 November 2022


One of the best-known ‘old masters’ in Finnish art history is undoubtedly the painter Albert Edelfelt. One might think one knows his art through and through, but still there have been new books and much new research published lately. These are shedding light, for example, on everything from the artist’s republican political ideas, to his married life. One aspect of recent research has focused on his career as a cultural ambassador for Finnish art at the end of the 19th century. Times change and accordingly so do the perspectives; new archival materials can be found or new truths revealed when one reads already-existing materials from different angles.

The current edition of FNG Research is mostly dedicated to articles concerning Albert Edelfelt. As I write this Editorial, the exhibition ‘Albert Edelfelt: Modern artist life in fin-de-siècle Europe’ is open at the Gothenburg Museum of Art (22 October 2022 – 12 March 2023). The exhibition arrived in Gothenburg from the Petit Palais in Paris, where it had reached almost 140,000 visitors. It seems that Nordic art is now inspiring the international public in the same way that it had done when the artists were still living at the end of 19th century.

For many years at the Ateneum we have been working to promote our classics internationally and to collaborate with museums in Europe. The aim of this kind of co-operation is not only to increase the international impact of our museum or to boost the visibility of our brand abroad, but also to learn and exchange knowledge on many levels.

The exhibition at the Petit Palais in Paris was on display in Spring of this year (10 March – 10 July 2022). It was the result of extensive international negotiations, meetings and knowledge-sharing workshops. The most hectic planning occurred during the Covid-19 pandemic, as it was not possible to meet face to face. Nevertheless, the process showed that it was possible to develop the concept of an exhibition through online contact. The Chief Curator of the Petit Palais, Anne-Charlotte Cathelineau, met virtually with our curators Hanne Selkokari and Anne-Maria Pennonen via Teams. As it turned out, their first face-to-face meeting took place only at the opening of the exhibition in March 2022.

As the result of this exchange, we are publishing several articles in this issue of FNG Research. Without this collaboration, we would not have benefitted from the research into, for example, the French Press reviews from Edelfelt’s time. Anne-Charlotte Cathelineau writes about the reception of Edelfelt’s art, starting from his first success at the Salon in Paris in 1877. Her article introduces many earlier, previously unresearched writings in the Parisian Press. We can discover just how important a place Edelfelt was able to occupy in the Parisian art scene during his long stay in the French capital. As Cathelineau states, reading the Press notices from the 1880s and 1890s, it is clear that critics were becoming more aware of a specific Nordic school and its main representatives. From various articles published from that time, she is able to conclude that the praise for foreign artists played into an attempt to revitalise the French school, which many critics of the day saw was in need of renewal.

Two more articles on Edelfelt in this issue consider different aspects of his career. Anne-Maria Pennonen focuses on the cosmopolitan side of the artist, while Hanne Selkokari highlights Edelfelt’s artworks in the Ateneum Art Museum’s collection and his role as an art expert and intermediary on the Finnish art-scene.

This edition is also introducing a much younger and less well-known artist, namely Elga Sesemann. Her art has been exhibited lately in some of our thematic shows, such as ‘Urban Encounters’, in 2018, and ‘Modern Woman’, in the Spring of this year. In her article ‘Hauntings: Taking a Look at Elga Sesemann’s Landscapes’, Emmi Halmesvirta introduces the Derridian term hauntology, a way of bringing to the present mental ghosts that haunt the present, in her analysis of some of Sesemann’s works. This term fits her art perfectly, as Sesemann’s family was forced to flee their home when Finland lost large parts of Karelia and the city of Vyborg during the Second World War. The artist’s traumatic experiences are a ‘haunting’, appearing in the melancholic atmosphere in many of her paintings. As Halmesvirta writes: ‘It is interesting to consider these [Sesemann’s] landscapes of the city from the viewpoint of haunting, because of the spectral quality of the figures in some of them.’ Hauntology has opened for her a new way of looking at the connection between the past and the present in Sesemann’s art.

The third topic in this issue of FNG Research is the conservation of contemporary art works and how the profession has changed over recent decades. Siukku Nurminen has enjoyed a long career as senior conservator of contemporary art for the Finnish National Gallery. In an interview in this edition, she describes her involvement in Sheela Gowda’s installation, Collateral, shown at the recent ARS22 exhibition. The work included materials that are used to make incense in India which were burnt in Kiasma in situ on metal grids, the ephemeral ashes reminding us of the impermanence of life. From the conservators’ point of view this work presented a challenge; first how to burn anything safely in a museum and secondly what to do with the remaining ashes on deinstallation. As the exhibition has now ended, the ashes are being donated for use in the making of ceramics. It is another transformation that will return the materials to the continuum of life. In this case, it is the materiality and the memory of the former artwork that will be haunting us, as new ceramic objects emerge.

Finally, I would like to draw your attention to our annual call for research interns for 2023. Applications will be taken until 31 December 2022, and two interns selected by 20 January 2023. Details of how to apply are in this issue.

Featured image: Albert Edelfelt, From St Cloud Park, Paris, 1905, oil on canvas, 65cm x 81.5cm. 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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Ilya Repin, Double Portrait of Natalia Nordmann and Ilya Repin, 1903, oil on canvas, 78.5cm x 130cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenny Nurminen

Editorial: Past, Present and Future

Marja Sakari, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum


31 May 2021


This edition of FNG Research is looking to the past, present and future. The future is opened up in two major research projects – ‘Gothic Modern’ and ‘Pioneering women artists’. The two initiators of the Gothic Modern project, Chief Curator, Dr Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, from the Ateneum Art Museum and Dr Juliet Simpson, Professor of Art History at Coventry University, are spearheading an international endeavour to rethink the development of a specifically Nordic Modernism at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, having its inspiration in the northern Gothic and Renaissance. The project is concentrating on illuminating the Gothic as a core fascination for late 19th- and early 20th-century art that crossed cultural borders, transcended nationalism and straddled war and its aftermath. The sources of inspiration for artists of that time can be traced to some exhibitions and to specific artists, such as Lucas Cranach and Hans Holbein.

Influences were also a political issue, as shown by Dr Krista Kodres, who in her article sheds light on the Estonian historiographical undertones shaping the understanding of Gothic art and architecture in Estonia. In her article, which is an extended abstract of her lecture given at the Gothic Modern knowledge sharing workshop in March of this year, she is asking how in different periods art-historical writing has formulated the understanding of cultural heritage. The basic question she asks is whether the artistic results of medieval and Renaissance art were nationally unique, or were they just copying the ‘trend-setting centres’, located mainly in German cities. The aim of some local art historians in Estonia was to demonstrate that the Baltic-Nordic region created its own independent art forms, an idea that challenged the view that Hanseatic German art was the predominant influence in this region.

Dr Anne-Maria Pennonen presents the recently launched international research project concerning women artists in the mid-19th century from Finland, Nordic and Baltic countries and Germany. What were the routes of inspiration for these artists, where did they study and what kind of networks did they form during their years of study?

In this issue we also present the results of a three-month research internship at the Finnish National Gallery undertaken by MA student Emmi Halmesvirta, who examines a much more recent artist, namely Juhana Blomstedt (1937–2010). Halmesvirta took as her starting point the archive material and sketches in the Finnish National Gallery collection related to Juhana Blomstedt’s career in the period 1970–80. Blomstedt’s art-theoretical thinking during the 1970s seems to revolve around questions of form, content, expression, abstraction, subjectivity, truth and optics. In his art he was somehow distancing himself from the high modernist demand for purity, even if his art could be categorised as being part of the constructivist tradition.

The Director of the Sinebrychoff Art Museum Kirsi Eskelinen writes about the provenance of a painting by Jacopo Bassano (c. 1510–92), Virgin and Child with John the Baptist and St Anthony the Abbot, which is housed in the museum’s collection. It is a republication of her article from 1992 but in connection with it, we are for the first time publishing images of the details on the back of the frame moulding. These give some important clues about the provenance of the artwork. The Museum has plans for a monographic exhibition on Jacopo Bassano in the near future, which makes it even more relevant to republish and expand on this article.

Two articles in this issue are focusing on the current exhibition of Ilya Repin at the Ateneum Art Museum: Chief Curator Timo Huusko’s essay on the Russian artist’s relationship to Finland, and an updated article by curator Helena Hätönen on the archival material related to Repin in the Archive Collections of the Finnish National Gallery, first published in the catalogue of the Kadriorg Art Museum’s Repin exhibition which took place in Tallinn in 2013.

The Ateneum Art Museum’s curators Hanne Selkokari and Anu Utriainen have been interviewed in connection with the exhibition ‘Among Forests and Lakes: Landscape Masterpieces from the Finnish National Gallery’, which is now on display at the National Nordic Museum in Seattle.

Dr Harri Kalha’s interview in this issue is connected with the exhibition of Magnus Enckell, which unfortunately had to be closed just a few weeks after its opening in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Fortunately, this exhibition is continuing in the Tampere Art Museum in a slightly smaller version this autumn.

I hope you will enjoy these diverse articles from different sectors of art history.

Featured image: Ilya Repin, Double Portrait of Natalia Nordmann and Ilya Repin, 1903, oil on canvas, 78.5cm x 130cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenny 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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Featured image: Magnus Enckell, View from Kaivopuisto, 1919, oil on canvas, 59cm x 68cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

From Chaos to the Security of Home: the Late Work of Magnus Enckell

Marja Sakari, PhD, Museum Director, 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. Wif Stenger

We have become accustomed to thinking of modernism in art as a continuous process of renewal and regeneration. In this light, art history has been written as a sort of bildungsroman, from the art movements of the late 19th century to the triumphal march towards Abstract Expressionism in the 20th century. The careers of individual artists are also examined according to this narrative, which aims at ever-improving results and emphasises the artist’s path towards stylistic purity and clarity.[1] Jaakko Puokka, author of a monograph on Magnus Enckell, sought to see increasing clarity and consistency through the phases of the artist’s career. In his view, Enckell’s late phase brought a mellowness and ‘a return to the Classical-Hellenic style, the birthplace of the crystal-sharp young male figures that he created three decades earlier’.[2] Puokka continues his analysis of Enckell’s late period, writing that, in his painting of Diana and Endymion, Enckell broke free from the imbalance that had led to his ‘aestheticising gourmandism’.[3]

Puokka’s interpretation of Enckell’s development of new content and sustainable form seems, however, to be wishful thinking based on the writer’s own artistic ideals and valuations of Enckell’s work from his own era.[4] During his final decade, Magnus Enckell’s art seems heterogenous and even hesitant: his gaze became retrospective, repeating similar mythological motifs from his younger years, turning inward to his home environment and nostalgic park scenes, or seeking a lost paradise and the support of religion. The style of his paintings also varied between cubist-like structuralism and Nabis-style symbolism. Enckell was undeniably problematic to his contemporaries, but Puokka’s text emphasises a need to develop a narrative around the artist’s career and life that would satisfy them.[5]

How then should we approach Enckell’s late period? How should we interpret his tentative art, which at times looked towards something new and at other times harked back to the past?

[1] See e.g. Francis Frascina and Charles Harrison (eds.). Modern Art and Modernism. A Critical Anthology, 2018 (1982). New York: Routledge.

[2] Puokka, Magnus Enckell: Ihminen ja taiteilija. Helsinki, Suomalainen tiedeakatemia & Otava, 1949, 210.

[3] Puokka, Magnus Enckell, 212.

[4] Puokka, Magnus Enckel, 208.

[5] Harri Kalha and Juha-Heikki Tihinen, whose studies have focused on Magnus Enckell’s homosexuality, emphasise how difficult it was for his contemporaries (and later researchers) to approach Enckell’s art that features strongly homoerotic characteristics. See e.g. Harri Kalha. Tapaus Magnus Enckell. Historiallisia tutkimuksia 227. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 2005; Juha-Heikki Tihinen. Halun häilyvät rajat: Magnus Enckellin teosten maskuliinisuuksien ja feminiinisyyksien representaatioista ja itsen luomisesta. Taidehistoriallisia tutkimuksia 37. Helsinki: Taidehistorian seura, 2008.

Featured image: Magnus Enckell, View from Kaivopuisto, 1919, oil on canvas, 59cm x 68cm. 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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Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

Editorial: Living in the Material World

Marja Sakari, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki


26 May 2020


As I sit down to write this Editorial, the museums in Finland have been closed for more than two months. In this challenging situation, continuity also offers some consolation, the fact that everything continues despite the Covid-19 virus. At this time there is also light at the end of the tunnel, and the museums are scheduled to reopen at the beginning of June, following the decree of the Finnish government.

There is a basic need in people to see beautiful and thought-provoking things in time and space, as a bodily experience – and that is exactly what museums can offer. The digital is only a substitute.

The third issue of FNG Research we publish this year is in this sense special. The articles in this edition are, as if by accident, all related to the effect of the physical aspects in art works. They all underline the importance of materiality and the use of physical means in visual art works: a sense of materiality, the use of tactile surfaces and colours in art.

In an interview by Gill Crabbe, Hanne Tikkala, who is funded as a research assistant at FNG’s materials research laboratory to undertake research for her doctoral dissertation, discusses the use of different colours by the iconic figure in Finnish ‘Golden Age’ art, namely that of Akseli Gallen-Kallela. Forgeries of his works have been circulating in abundance, even during his lifetime, which makes this research of utmost importance to the contemporary art world and art market. The research is based on a conservation project that started in 2017. FNG’s Senior Conservation Scientist Seppo Hornytzkyj, together with Tikkala, have been conducting an extensive analysis of the pigments Gallen-Kallela used, selecting works spanning his entire career, from 1880 until 1929. The research shows, among other things, that Gallen-Kallela always tried to use high-quality pigments that retain their colour, which is difficult to imitate.

The two other articles in this issue have been published in the exhibition catalogue of Silent Beauty – Nordic and East Asian Interaction, and the exhibition is currently on show in Stockholm, in the Prins Eugen’s Waldemarsudde museum until 16 August 2020.

In her article, ‘Sense of Materiality, Simplification and Ascetic Minimalism’, Anne-Marie Pennonen is underlining the importance of simplification and the sense of materiality in art in the period following the two World Wars. The style also became an ideological and ethical question for many artists of that time, as they combined spirituality with social idealism. As Pennonen states: ‘The importance of hand-made objects and the use of natural materials were also emphasised.’

In Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff’s article ‘A Changing Landscape’, the poetical and ideological aspects are underlined in Finnish landscape painting during the 20th century: ‘Landscapes were associated with poetry, purification and heightened emotional states’, she writes. The industrialisation of Europe prompted many artists to think about the possibilities of using landscape painting as a manifestation and expression of more spiritual ideas and that was achieved through, among other things, the deployment of colour. The ideal of simplicity too evoked parallels with music and spiritual life. A very Asian notion of emptiness and space was also emphasised.

During this period of the Covid-19 pandemic, when everybody is confined to their homes, the meaning of culture and intellectual activity becomes even more important than before. It is a question of connecting with others. Art plays an important part in bringing humanistic ways of thinking to the fore. This is something we all need – and we need it right now.

Featured image: The banner on the facade of the Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki, during the closure of the museum in spring 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The text says: ‘Art is waiting until we meet again.’
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

Helene Schjerfbeck, Landscape from St Ives, Barnoon Villa, 1887, ink on paper, 11.5cm x 18cm- Friends of Ateneum Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

Editorial: Support Strategies

Marja Sakari, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery, Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki


27 November 2019


When I first read the articles for this edition of FNG Research, I did not think there was any particular connection between them. The articles covered curatorial issues, a doctoral thesis on Helene Schjerfbeck’s self-portraits, and a conference paper on the theme of the subjectile and the play between immateriality and materiality. However, a closer look reveals that, in fact, they all have quite a lot in common. Ari Tanhuanpää’s article is based on his contribution for this autumn’s Tahiti 8 conference and is titled ‘All the Leaves in the World: the Subjectile as a Problem’. Tanhuanpää claims in his article that paper, or indeed any other support in an artwork, is something that oscillates between materiality and immateriality.

In the same way, I suppose, curatorial work is the invisible or immaterial aspect that constitutes a support for the artworks to be displayed in an exhibition. The public won’t necessarily notice the curatorial decisions but these play an important part in the narrative of the exhibition. The curatorial underpinnings make visible some issues and ideas, whereas others might remain obscured.

In an exhibition display, the entire design can be thought as the subjectile. The colours of the walls, and the arrangement and juxtaposition of the artworks are there to emphasise meaning. But for the audience the support remains ‘immaterial’ in the same sense that in Tanhuanpää’s article Susanne Gottberg’s plywood support stays quasi-unseen and immaterial as the background for her images.

I am writing this editorial in Paris, having visited many exhibitions here and also in London. The context gives meaning. For example, today we look very differently at the portraits by Gauguin, following the #Metoo debate, as we also look differently at the ‘Pre-Raphaelite Sisters’ exhibition in the context of the current discoveries about women in art. Then again, even when an exhibition is mounted within a ‘white cube’ context, with its neutral background, as was the case in the 1950s, it has significance, as Mariliis Rebane points out in her article revisiting the Collection Display at the Ateneum Art Museum in 1959. The white cube underlines the modernist idea of artworks being something by themselves. Any kind of stories would just disturb the purity of painting.

The modernist purity of painting is disrupted in Helene Schjerfbeck’s self-portraits, as Patrik Nyberg discusses in the interview with Marja Lahelma and Gill Crabbe. In his doctoral thesis, Painted Faces: the Self-Portraits of Helene Schjerfbeck, Modernism and Representation, Nyberg argues that the idea within modernism, that a painting should not interact with the viewer but be its autonomous self, is interrupted in Schjerfbeck’s self-portraits. I also link Nyberg’s ideas on Schjerfbeck’s painting to the discussion of the immaterial and material support for painting. She was actually using the support of the canvas as an essential part of the painting by scratching paint away, having first covered the canvas with it.

This issue of FNG Research is published to coincide with the Helene Schjerfbeck exhibition that has travelled from London to the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki. Almost all of the works that were shown in the London exhibition are also on display in the Helsinki show. Yet these two exhibitions are nevertheless very different. This becomes evident in Gill Crabbe’s interview with Chief Curator of the Ateneum Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, who was a key player in the curation of the Helene Schjerfbeck exhibitions in both London and Helsinki. The Helsinki version is different because, in addition, it contains many works that were not shown in London. But the essential difference is more on a conceptual level. As the article states: ‘While the London exhibition was very much an introduction to Schjerfbeck’s work, based on in-depth research covering her entire career, and giving centre stage to the artist’s remarkable body of self-portraits, the Helsinki show required a different treatment for an artist who is a household name in Finland and who is regarded as a national treasure.’

The research projects continue, and the next issue of FNG Research will concentrate on the results of the European Revivals research project. The Finnish National Gallery is also organising the project’s concluding conference in January 2020. Registration is now open – visit for the conference programme and how to register..

Featured image: Helene Schjerfbeck, Landscape from St Ives, Barnoon Villa, 1887, ink on paper, 11.5cm x 18cm- Friends of Ateneum Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

Featured image: Aarre Heinonen, Railway Square, 1945, oil on canvas, 81cm x 60cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

Editorial: Search and Search Again

Marja Sakari, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery, Ateneum Art Museum


24 January 2019


Last November (29–30.11.2018), the Academy of Fine Arts of the University of the Arts Helsinki, along with the Art History Department of Helsinki University and the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, got together to organise a two-day conference, ‘Connoisseurship in Contemporary Art Research’, which had as its theme the importance of the archival approach in research into contemporary art. One of the highlights was Katharina Günther’s presentation, which was based on the results of her year-long residency at the City Gallery in Dublin. Her research project was concentrating on the material from Francis Bacon’s London studio, which had been transported from London to Dublin in 1998 in the exact same condition as it had been left when Bacon died. She worked with the original material in the studio with a variety of items, from photographs to all kinds of ephemera. Seemingly worthless material transformed, in the hands of the researcher, into authentic evidence. With that material, she was able to prove that despite Bacon’s own observations that art has nothing to do with illustration, most of his artworks were based on everyday media images. The composition, details and figures were often borrowed almost identically from images published in printed media.

For a researcher, material that has previously gone unnoticed, has been abandoned or considered as apparently unimportant might become the very core of the research and a source of new knowledge.

In this first issue of FNG Research in 2019, two researchers are presenting their new findings. Both articles are good examples that show how important it is to study profoundly different archives and to experience original material. For these researchers, archival material and the rereading of the material in connection to previous research, is of utmost importance.

Both Sandra Lindblom – whose article is dealing with the early career of the painter Eva Cederström – and Antonella Perna – who has as her topic the friendship, mutual respect and influence of two scholars of Asian art and culture – base their research on letters, diaries and other archival materials.

Lindblom, whose article is resulting from the research internship at the FNG, writes in her preface: ‘The study reassesses and gives new information about the narrative on Cederström’s early career, using previously unstudied archive material, drawings and paintings.’ In her article she is able to show that Cederström eschewed the label of being a woman artist, but at the same time she was the victim of conventions prevailing pre- and post- Second World War. Despite her talent and passion for art she was obliged take on office work because of lack of money. With the archival material Lindblom shows the contradictions in the start of Cederström’s career. Her early years as an artist contained ‘failures, successes, institutional support and economic problems’. The article points out that despite her being appreciated as a promising artist at an early phase, she couldn’t advance as an artist in the way she would have wanted. Being a woman was significant, it seems.

Antonella Perna writes in her peer-reviewed article how her attention was drawn to the relationship and position of Osvald Sirén in Italian studies of Asian culture by a single letter in the Sirén Archive in Stockholm. According to that letter, Sirén was appointed Doctor Honoris Causa of the University of Rome La Sapienza. To Perna this single letter was not sufficient to explain why this happened and she started to look for other evidence to find out why he was honoured this way. Perna found the evidence in the correspondence of Sirén with the Italian scholar of Asian studies, Giuseppe Tucci. Perna is revealing new knowledge of this relationship. She writes: ‘since there are no previous studies on the relationship with Tucci, I would like to present a first analysis of unpublished letters and other archival material that can throw some light on this aspect of Sirén’s professional life: his particular role in the development of Oriental scholarship in Italy.’


I started to write this editorial for the FNG Research issue just when the annually organised Days for Science were about to start. In the main Finnish newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, there was an interview with three academics, namely the former rector and chancellor of the University of Helsinki Risto Ihamuotila, Professor of Cosmology Kari Enqvist and researcher of political history, Johanna Vuorelma. They all defended the significance of the sciences, the meaning of knowledge based on facts and profound research, at a time of the increasing dominance of social media, when it is possible to spread all kinds of knowledge just with one keystroke.

According to them, in science it is important to understand that knowledge is constantly changing and that it is always important to recheck already existing information: what we know and what can be known (Helsingin Sanomat 9 January 2019). In undertaking this kind of rechecking, the role of archives and the development and deeper understanding of their content is extremely important.

Featured image: Aarre Heinonen, Railway Square, 1945, oil on canvas, 81cm x 60cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

Boundary Crossings: The Political Postminimalism of Mona Hatoum

Marja Sakari, PhD, Chief Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki

First published in Christine Van Assche & Clarrie Wallis (eds.), Mona Hatoum. Centre Pompidou, Paris, 24 June–28 September 2015, Tate Modern, London, 4 May─21 August 2016, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki, 7 October 2016–26 February 2017. London: Tate Publishing, 2016, pp. 150–168. Transl. Silja Kudell

Investment in the look is not as privileged in women as in men. More than any other sense, the eye objectifies and it masters … In our culture the predominance of the look over smell, taste, touch and hearing has brought about an impoverishment of bodily relations.

Luce Irigaray[1]


Early minimalist art challenged the privileging of the gaze by foregrounding art’s relation to its surrounding space and the viewer’s corporeal experience.[2] Luce Irigaray’s critique of the privileged gaze is similarly subverted on many levels by Mona Hatoum. We can feel and hear her works – well-nigh even taste and smell them – and one of them literally even touches us. They are insistently corporeal, experienced viscerally within our guts. The materials she uses – cold steel, human detritus, dead skin, strands of hair, nail clippings, plastic, glass, soap and the like – play a highly potent role in the intricate signification process in which she embroils the viewer/experiencer.

The first time I saw her work was at the Centre Pompidou in the summer of 1994.[3] Earlier that spring, I had just seen a Robert Morris retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Guggenheim Museum SoHo in New York. Even though these two powerfully spatial artists represent different generations and genders, seeing their work in such close succession tempted me to draw parallels between them, particularly as both draw inspiration from the same traditions, minimalism and performance art. Many of Morris’s works in the exhibition marked an attempt to subvert the Western mind-body dichotomy, as Rosalind Krauss, the curator, stated in her seminal essay for the exhibition catalogue.[4] Yet, despite its powerful spatiality, its message was relayed primarily on an intellectual level, subordinate to the authority of the subject’s gaze. Many of Morris’s works occupied the gallery space as aesthetic artefacts, impermeable to our access.

A preoccupation with the Western mind-body dichotomy similarly pervades the oeuvre of Mona Hatoum.[5] Yet, her exhibition had a very different effect on me than Morris’s. With her work, my experience as a viewer was not just intellectual, but also physical and emotional. I identified with it viscerally, which compelled me to question how I relate to everything, from my own identity to world politics. How did she achieve such a powerful destabilising effect, and why did she move me in such a fundamentally different way than Morris, whose minimalistic art largely elicited feelings of aesthetic and intellectual gratification? Was it the political subtext that slowly unfolded through a complex web of associations, or was it that I am a woman and closer in age to Hatoum than I am to Morris? Many such questions filled my mind back then. Now, 20 years later, this essay offers a chance to revisit some of them – and perhaps to find answers.

[1] Quoted in Marie-Françoise Hans and Gilles Lapouge (eds.), Les femmes, la pornographie et l’érotisme, Paris, 1978, p. 50. Luce Irigaray is a French linguist, cultural theoretician, psychoanalyst and philosopher whose writings address the problem of the relation between man and woman vis-à-vis gender difference.
[2] Gregory Battcock (ed.), Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles and London, 1995.
[3] See Mona Hatoum, exhibition catalogue, Centre Pompidou, Paris, June–August 1994. One of the featured pieces, Light Sentence, 1992, was later shown at the Ateneum in Helsinki in ARS 95, an exhibition organised in 1995 by the Finnish Museum of Contemporary Art.
[4] Rosalind Krauss, ‘The Mind/Body Problem: Robert Morris in series’, in Robert Morris: The Mind/Body Problem, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Guggenheim Museum SoHo, New York, 1994.
[5] See ‘Michael Archer in Conversation with Mona Hatoum’, in Mona Hatoum, London, 1997, p. 8.

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For more information on Mona Hatoum’s exhibition at Kiasma, visit

Jari Silomäki, I Walk Hundreds – and Thousands – of Steps on Tiananmen Square (from the series ‘“We are the Revolution”, After Joseph Beuys’), 2013, pigment print, 77cm x 65cm, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

Unlike Minds: the Sleeping Artist and Other Modes of Resistance

Marja Sakari, PhD, Chief Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma

First published in Demonstrating Minds – Disagreements in Contemporary Art. Edited by Patrik Nyberg & Jari-Pekka Vanhala. Museum of Contemporary Art publication 150. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma 2015

Stéphane Hessel, the German-born French diplomat and co-author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, voiced a rally cry to France at the age of 93 with his pamphlet Time for Outrage!(Indignez-Vous!, 2010).[1] The piece was originally written as a speech commemorating France’s resistance to Hitler’s occupation during the Second World War. For Hessel – a former resistance fighter and survivor of two Nazi concentration camps – the main struggle of the 21st century is not against political tyrants, but against ‘the international dictatorship of the financial markets’. His indignation was spurred by the growing gap between the world’s rich and poor, the crumbling of the welfare system, restrictions on the freedom of the Press, the unjustified political influence of the financial sector, the unfair treatment of illegal immigrants and the oppression of the Palestinians in Israel. Also voicing grave concern for the environmental crisis, he advocated peaceful, non-violent insurrection. His pamphlet urges us to be indignant, not indifferent – to take a stand and show outrage at times when we can no longer feel proud of the society we live in.[2] Speaking out and showing anger makes a political difference. Hessel’s key message is that injustice should not be tolerated in any form.

But social injustice and inequality show no sign of abating. The political climate is more volatile than ever: The Arab Spring failed to bring democracy to North Africa, the crisis in Ukraine is breeding fear among Russia’s neighbouring states, and Isis is gaining power and ground. Equality is far from a given: rape remains a widespread problem around the world, female genital mutilation persists, and sex slavery and trafficking are rife, even in the West.

How do contemporary artists deal with such injustices? What strategies can they employ to voice their indignation and mount a resistance?

[1] Hessel’s (1917–2013) pamphlet was translated into many languages immediately after it was first published in French. It sold millions of copies and is cited as inspiration for various global protest movements including Occupy Wall Street.éphane_Hessel.

[2] Stéphane Hessel, Time for Outrage! Charles Glass Books, London, 2011.

Featured image: Jari Silomäki, I Walk Hundreds – and Thousands – of Steps on Tiananmen Square (from the series ‘“We are the Revolution”, After Joseph Beuys’), 2013, pigment print, 77cm x 65cm, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

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