One of the Finnish Art Society’s minute books shown open with additional inserts. Archive of the Finnish Art Society. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Minttu Juvonen

Editorial: Art History and the Spirit of Inquiry

Susanna Pettersson, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery, Ateneum Art Museum

 

July 25 2017

 

In 1891 Eliel Aspelin-Haapkylä (1847–1917) published the art history book Suomalaisen taiteen historia pääpiirteissään which was the first ever art history presentation printed in Finnish. It was a supplement to Wilhelm Lübke’s famous book Grundriss der Kunstgeschichte (Outlines of the History of Art, 1860) that had been translated into several languages, including Finnish in 1893.

Aspelin-Haapkylä told the general story passionately. And he was certainly the right man to do the job: he had already written two artists’ monographs – one published in 1888 on the sculptor Johannes Takanen, and the other in 1890 on the painter Werner Holmberg. As one of the first art historians in Finland, he felt that the country needed to understand the importance of art and its development.

There were many publications that were to follow. By the end of the nineteenth and early 20th century, art historians such as Johan Jakob Tikkanen, Onni Okkonen and Johannes Öhquist continued to research and write the story of art. In addition to these general presentations, artists’ monographs also became increasingly important. The key artists all deserved an analysis of their lifetime achievements.

These early publications explain what was valued and why, what was regarded as good and what less so, and why certain artists became more celebrated than others. The authors were all gatekeepers of their own time, having several roles such as art history writers, critics, university professors, and active members of the art world, thus being in the possession of a fair amount of cultural, economic and societal capital. Their choices mattered a lot.

Contemporary research can revisit the formation of the history of art history. It can – and must – look into what was trending at the time, what the authors read and whom they followed, how their taste was built and why, who were their friends and how the professional networks were built. The archives of the artists add to the story in a significant way.

In terms of the historical material, we can still rely on archives: rich correspondence, minutes of meetings and other documents. The closer we come to the present, the thinner the material we leave behind. Thinking about my discussions with my international or in-house colleagues, or any discussions of any member of the art world – they are mostly floating in the cloud of emails or social media messages. And who knows, some of that material could be valuable one day.

The articles in this issue remind us of the importance of the source material for research: physical art works, oral history i.e. interviews that can still be made, material that already exists in the collections that can be revisited and analysed from today’s perspective, and documents such as artists’ letters that are being acquired for the collections.

Most importantly this issue of FNG Research reminds us – as all of them do – that we must continue asking questions. This is the only way forward and the gateway to new discoveries.

Featured image: One of the Finnish Art Society’s minute books shown open with additional inserts. Archive of the Finnish Art Society. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery.
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Minttu Juvonen

Paul Gauguin, printer Pola Gauguin, Te po (Night Eternal), 1893–94 (printed 1921) woodcut, 20.5 x 25.5cm Ahlström collection, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

Artek – a Bridge to the International Art World

Susanna Pettersson, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery, Ateneum Art Museum

 Also published in Sointu Fritze (ed.), Alvar Aalto – Art and the Modern Form. Ateneum Publications Vol. 93. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, 2017, 48–69. Transl. Wif Stenger

The exhibitions organised by the Artek gallery enjoy an almost iconic status in the field of Finnish art. These exhibitions were bold and ambitious. The idea behind them was to bring together modern art, industry, interior design and ‘propaganda’, by which was meant publishing activity. The exhibitions also left a lasting mark on Finnish art and on the Ateneum art collection.

‘Europe – its symbol could be […] an airplane above a cathedral. America – its symbol is an airplane above a skyscraper. In the latter picture, there is perfect harmony. In the first there is not. The former represents the present day. The latter, the future.’ [1]

It was with these words that the writer Olavi Paavolainen, in his book Nykyaikaa etsimässä (In Search of Modern Time), published in 1929, expressed his generation’s desire to see the world through new eyes. Finnish artists were accustomed to finding inspiration broadly in European countries, primarily in France, Germany and Italy. Paavolainen had, in his dreams, travelled further afield, as far as New York and Chicago.

Paavolainen’s book tackled three themes: the modern European lifestyle, new trends in art and the new image of humanity. Paavolainen wrote with great passion on behalf of modernity and against conservatism. He emphasised that in ‘developing a modern view of life’ one should pay attention to all the arts, meaning literature, the visual arts, theatre and music. He considered architecture an applied art, regarding Le Corbusier as one of the boldest theorists in his field.[2] Paavolainen sought out the avant-garde spirit in those around him, mentioning by name many Finnish and foreign contemporary artists, writers and architects. However, in his view, in Finland there was only one interesting architect – Alvar Aalto. Paavolainen described him as ‘a practical man with a bold approach and a daring theorist’.[3] And besides, Aalto – unlike many others – travelled by airplane.[4]

[1] Olavi Paavolainen, Nykyaikaa etsimässä (Helsinki: Otava, 1929), 145. Quoted in Finnish as: ‘Eurooppa – sen tunnuskuvana voisi olla […] katedraalin yllä liitelevä lentokone. Amerikka – sen tunnuskuvana on lentokone pilvenpiirtäjän yllä. Viimemainitussa näyssä on täydellinen harmonia. Ensin mainitussa ei. Edellinen esittää nykyisyyttä. Jälkimmäinen tulevaisuutta.

[2] Paavolainen 1929, 29 and 32.

[3] Paavolainen 1929, 51.

[4] Paavolainen 1929, 148.

Featured image: Paul Gauguin, printer Pola Gauguin, Te po (Night Eternal), 1893–94 (printed 1921), woodcut, 20.5 x 25.5cm, Ahlström collection, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

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Alongside the exhibition ‘Alvar Aalto – Art and the Modern Form,’ two conferences are being held at the Ateneum Art Museum: Alvar Aalto – Art and the Modern Form (in English and Finnish), 24 August; Aino Marsio-Aalto as a Designer (in Finnish), 9 September. For full details and programme visit http://www.ateneum.fi/nayttelyt/alvar-aalto/?lang=en

Johannes Takanen, Carl Gustaf Estlander, 1883, plaster cast, height 66cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Peer Reviewed Article: Nordic Art History in the Making

Nordic Art History in the Making: Carl Gustaf Estlander and Tidskrift för Bildande Konst och Konstindustri 1875–1876

Susanna Pettersson, PhD, Museum Director, Ateneum Art Museum

First published in Renja Suominen-Kokkonen (ed.), The Challenges of Biographical Research in Art History Today. Taidehistoriallisia tutkimuksia (Studies in Art History) 46. Helsinki: Taidehistorian seura (The Society for Art History in Finland), 64–73, 2013

… “så länge vi på vår sida göra allt hvad i vår magt står – den mår vara hur ringa som helst – för att skapa ett konstorgan, värdigt vårt lands och vår tids fordringar.

Stockholm i December 1874. Redaktionen.”

(‘… as long as we do everything we can – however little that may be – to create an art body that is worth the claims of our countries and of our time.

From the Editorial staff, Stockholm, December 1874.’)[1]

 

These words were addressed to the readers of the first issue of the brand new art journal Tidskrift för bildande konst och konstindustri (Journal of Fine Arts and Arts and Crafts) published in Stockholm over two years in 1875–1876. One of the founding members of the journal was the Finnish academic and cultural activist Carl Gustaf Estlander (1834–1910), whose professional ambitions fit well into the picture.

I will argue that Tidskrift för bildande konst och konstindustri provided the Nordic editors of the journal with a platform to manifest their concept of art history. They developed a method of communicating the contents through a specific set of articles. The journal was a perfect 19th-century example of a project showcasing the development of a profession in the making and the use of professional networks. For Estlander, this was a gateway to the Nordic and North European art-historical discourse, and strengthened his position as the leading Finnish art historian of his time.

[1] Tidskrift för bildande konst och konstindustri 1875. Stockholm: C. E. Fritze’s Bokhandel, VIII.

Featured image: Johannes Takanen, Carl Gustaf Estlander, 1883, plaster cast, height 66cm.
Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

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Artists and teachers with their spouses in Düsseldorf in the 1850s. On the left, Werner Holmberg (1830–1860), one of the first Finnish artists to have studied in Düsseldorf. Black-and-white print on paper from the 1890s, reproduction of original print. Finnish National Gallery archive prints.

Editorial: Going Solo

Susanna Pettersson, PhD, Museum Director, Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki

 

September 22, 2016

 

This autumn the Finnish National Gallery celebrates internationally acknowledged artists such as Mona Hatoum and Amedeo Modigliani. Hatoum has a strong voice in the contemporary art scene. Her political works pinpoint the issues that we all should be aware of. Modigliani, in his turn, is known for his unique paintings and sculptures but also because of his dramatic life story: drugs and poverty combined with the deep passion to create.

Museums are platforms for exhibitions that touch our hearts and souls. However, this has not always been the case. In the 19th century, art museums throughout Europe mainly presented exhibitions of collections according to the schools, such as the Dutch and Flemish, or Renaissance art, rather than focusing on individual artists. Yet the key figures of art history were sculpted, carved, or their names inscribed on museum walls and facades all over Europe, from London to Paris and Helsinki. Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo were among the most frequently used names in this imaginary hall of fame. It’s somewhat striking that while the value and interest of exceptional artists’ careers were understood, retrospective exhibitions as we understand them today, became increasingly popular only after the mid-19th century.

The interest in exploring the careers of individual artists grew hand in hand with the development of art-historical research. Encyclopaedic art-historical presentations written by Franz Theodor Kugler, Karl Schnaase or Wilhelm Lübke, for example, provided a framework for the discourse in the 19th century. Within the same time frame the first artist monographs were published. They opened up possibilities for the better understanding of art history, and inspired museums to start focusing on exhibitions that explored one artist only. Specific sites and museums dedicated to single artists were opened: among the first were the Thorvaldsen Museum in Copenhagen (1848) Antonio Canova’s Gipsoteca in Possagno, Italy (1853) and the Ingres’ Room (1851/54), now part of the Musée Ingres in Montauban, France.

In Finland the first retrospective exhibition was organised to honour the memory of Werner Holmberg (1830–60) whose blossoming career as a landscape painter was cut short by his untimely death. The exhibition, mounted by the Finnish Art Society, was opened in September 1861 at the grand gallery of the Societetshuset in Helsinki, a venue where the upper class organised large-scale events. This time, there were no real possibilities for any research. That came later in 1890, when Finnish art historian Eliel Aspelin-Haapkylä published the first proper monograph about Werner Holmberg, in connection with the artist’s exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki.

The link between research and exhibitions is vital. It has always been, and today even more so. This is perhaps something that we should highlight even more: that the best exhibitions are always based on scholarly and ambitious research. Every phenomenon, every artist and even every work has a story to tell. And these stories can lead to life-changing thoughts and experiences.

Featured image: Artists and teachers with their spouses in Düsseldorf in the 1850s. On the left, Werner Holmberg (1830–1860), one of the first Finnish artists to have studied in Düsseldorf. Black-and-white print on paper from the 1890s, reproduction of original print. Finnish National Gallery Archive.

Finnish Art Society’s collections in the Ateneum building, gallery of Finnish art, 1890s. Photo: Finnish National Gallery.

Editorial: Go Go Collection Research!

Susanna Pettersson, PhD, Museum Director, Ateneum Art Museum

 

September 25, 2015

 

My lifelong passion has been collection studies and museum history. I began exploring this topic in the late-1980s when it was not very high on the agenda. Later on, collections and museum history have earned their place within the academic discourse – and for a good reason.

Collections form the absolute core of the Finnish National Gallery and it goes without saying that the collection is our shared passion today. It consists of more than 36,000 works of art and a priceless archive of letters, documents, photographs and other material that completes the story of art. This rich collection is a wonderful combination of artworks and documents relating to the creative process – correspondence revealing thoughts and ideas, photos from decades that have been long gone and much more.

Our exhibition projects, whether they are in-house productions, joint ventures or tailor-made productions, are all based on extensive research – from studies related to a single work, to complete analysis of a whole artistic oeuvre or phenomenon within visual arts. The well-spent hours in the library reading books and looking at the archive material, seeking new data, making links and discovering things, can be described as a seductive and very addictive part of our work – not to mention the close study of the artworks.

The history of collection and its sub-collections are of interest as well. Take Siv and Rolando Pieraccini’s substantial donation, for example: the largest collection of 20th-century Italian graphic art outside Italy, it consists of more than 1,300 works by 50 artists and opens a huge possibility for new initiatives that may lead to a number of exhibitions.

Our aim at the Finnish National Gallery is to strengthen and develop the co-operation between museums and universities, as well as with individual scholars. We are organising international research conferences around the themes that are of importance for us. And we are looking forward to welcoming new researchers to dive into our collections and archives – and get to know our in-house experts who cover the huge range of art history, from the Renaissance to contemporary art and culture.

The international community is all about networks and contacts. Therefore, we strongly believe in sharing what we have with others.

I wish that you enjoy reading FNG Research.

Featured image: The Finnish Art Society’s collections in the Ateneum gallery of Finnish art, 1890s. Photographer unknown. Photo: Finnish National Gallery

 

The Ateneum, which opened to the public in 1888, was the first official building in Finland dedicated to the arts. Photograph by Daniel Nyblin, 1890 / Finnish National Gallery.

Peer Reviewed Article: The Art Museum as Author of Art History – The Formation of a National Art Collection in Finland and the Case of Copies

Susanna Pettersson, PhD, Museum Director, Ateneum Art Museum

First published in ‘Mind and Matter. Selected Papers of Nordik 2009 Conference for Art Historians’. Edited by Johanna Vakkari. Taidehistoriallisia tutkimuksia / Studies in Art History 41. Helsinki: Taidehistorian seura – Society of Art History, 216–227.

People have always been keen to hear, tell and build complete stories. The reasons have to do with the encyclopaedic need to understand the world and its mechanisms and to govern the universe by relevant explanations. The more one knows the more power one has, as demonstrated in the early cabinets of curiosities of the Renaissance period.[1] The driving force behind every collection is a dream of completeness, and creating something that remains even after the collector’s death.[2] Collecting is also a statement of what’s considered valuable and worth seeing. In this sense a collector is a creator, a storyteller.

Public museums are not that different. They are committed to the formation of art history by collecting, displaying and interpreting works of art at an institutional level. Museums have become the official narrators of art history – but not without the individual decision-makers and gatekeepers who have used the institutional power. The formation of collections has depended on their personal value judgement, understanding and taste.

It’s also vital to understand the role of the museums as non-neutral, political tools. They have been used to build and to illustrate a nation, as authors such as Benedict Anderson[3] have suggested. Museums create an institutional aura for the master narratives, and help nations to visualise the past and the present by displaying collections according to the greater consensus.[4] This is particularly interesting in the case of 19th-century representations since that was typically an era of ‘one’ story, art history forming a good example of this.

This article looks into one of the early Finnish cases, the formation of the art collection of the Finnish Art Society[5], and describes the high expectations and controversies that emerged in late 19th-century Finland when the collection was permanently displayed at the Ateneum building, opened to the public in the autumn of 1888 in Helsinki city centre.

[1] See Mauries, Patrick, Cabinets of Curiosities. Thames and Hudson, 2002.

[2] About the psychology of collecting see Muensterberger, Werner, Collecting: An Unruly Passion. Psychological Perspectives. San Diego, New York, London: A Harvest Book, 1994.

[3] Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 1983.

[4] This can be demonstrated by looking into the history of displays where different trends apply: the 19th-century collection display emphasised the traditional story of art told with the help of different Schools and this remained the dominating way to address the issue until the last decades of 20th century when museums started to present multiple stories at the same time, mixing and blending the major narrative with minor narratives, representing the local and global together and travelling in time, thus demonstrating the links from the contemporary to the past. For influential examples see the documentation of the 1998 collection display at Moderna Museet, Stockholm and the 2000 collection display at Tate Modern, London.

[5] For an extensive study of the formation of the collection of the Finnish Art Society see Pettersson, Susanna, Suomen Taideyhdistyksestä Ateneumiin. Fredrik Cygnaeus, Carl Gustaf Estlander ja taidekokoelman roolit. Suomalaisen kirjallisuuden seura: Helsinki, 2008.

Featured image: The Ateneum, which opened to the public in 1888, was the first official building in Finland dedicated to the arts. Photograph by Daniel Nyblin, 1890 / Finnish National Gallery

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