Ilya Repin and Vera Repina (centre, front) with their neighbours at Repin’s 85th birthday celebrations in Kuokkala on 5 August 1929. Vasily Levi is third from left. Photographer unknown. Lauri Haataja Repin Collection. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery

The Artist, his Admirers, his Dealers and Inheritors – Ilya Repin and his Career in the Republic of Finland

Timo Huusko, Ph.Lic., Chief Curator, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum

This is a revised and extended version of Timo Huusko’s article ‘Ilya Repin’s early art exhibitions in Finland’, published in Anne-Maria Pennonen (ed.), Ilya Repin. Ateneum Publications Vol. 147. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, 2021, 103–27. Transl. Don McCracken

Ilya Repin was faced with a new, unexpected situation when the October Revolution of 1917 severed the close ties between St Petersburg and Kuokkala in Finland. He had become accustomed to many changes in the course of his long life, but up until then these had been mainly due to his own decisions, especially his bold departure from Chuguev to St Petersburg to study art in 1863, then moving on to Moscow in 1877 and exhibiting with the non-academic Peredvizhniki (Wanderers) group. Repin returned to St Petersburg in 1882, and in 1892 he became first a teacher at the Imperial Academy of Arts, and later its Director. He also acquired a place in the countryside near Vitebsk in Zdrawneva, Belarus, in 1892, and subsequently entered into a relationship with Natalia Nordmann, with whom he purchased a house in Kuokkala on the Karelian Isthmus in 1899. In 1903, he moved permanently to Kuokkala and two years later retired from the Academy. These decisions were all made as a result of more-or-less conscious judgments that influenced his quality of life and relationship networks.

Things changed in 1918, however, and Repin was no longer in control. Nordmann (1863–1914) had died of pneumonia in Switzerland four years earlier, and the border between Finland and Russia was closed in April 1918 in the wake of the October Revolution and the Finnish Civil War, leaving Repin a 73-year-old Russian emigré in the newly-independent Finland. His property in Russia was confiscated, and for nearly three years he was virtually ignorant of what was happening in Soviet Russia.[1] On top of all that, his right hand had become partially paralysed, preventing him from working properly after 1903. He lived in his studio house, Penates (Penaty) with two servants and his daughter Nadya (Nadezhda), who had learning disabilities. His son Yury lived nearby with his family and his eldest daughter Vera moved to Penates from the Soviet Union in 1922. His third daughter Tatyana lived in Zdrawneva until 1930.

By this point Repin had lost his former network of exhibitors and buyers, along with the Russian intelligentsia and circle of patrons that had given him job opportunities and also provided inspiring food for thought. In fact, Repin had cut himself off from the St Petersburg elite after moving to Kuokkala in 1903, although at that time a St Petersburg newspaper had reported he was still voted the fourth best-known Russian after Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Gorky.[2] The way that he distanced himself can be seen, for example, in the fact that he became interested in the free co-operative movement and a self-sufficient economy in the spirit of Tolstoy, as well as in democratic, non-hierarchical structures and ideas about living in harmony with nature in general. Repin and Nordmann’s weekly receptions at Penates on Wednesdays offered only vegetarian food and self-service at the dining table, although that did not stop prominent Russian writers and artists visiting him until the outbreak of the First World War. While Repin opposed new art trends, such as the aestheticism of the Mir iskusstva (World of Art) group and especially the early avant-garde, nevertheless in the mid-1910s he became acquainted with, for example, Vladimir Mayakovsky and David Burliuk, whom he met at the villa of his neighbour, the author Korney Chukovsky.[3]

[1] Elizabeth Kridl Valkenier. Ilya Repin and the World of Russian Art. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990, 186–87. According to Tito Colliander, Repin last visited Russia in November 1917. See Tito Colliander. Ilja Repin, ukrainalainen taiteilija. Helsinki: Tammi, 1944, 331.

[2] ‘Ett och annat’, Hufvudstadsbladet, 4 July 1903.

[3] Olli Valkonen. ‘Ilja Repin ja Suomi’, in Ilja Repin. Exhibition catalogue. Helsinki : Taidekeskus Retretti, 1995, 38–43. After the revolution, Chukovsky remained in Soviet Russia, where he became a major children’s writer. He was also a significant person in Repin’s life as editor of Repin’s memoirs, which the artist began to compile in Kuokkala. The memoirs were completed as early as 1916, but were not published in the Soviet Union until 1937.

Featured image: Ilya Repin and Vera Repina (centre, front) with their neighbours at Repin’s 85th birthday celebrations in Kuokkala on 5 August 1929. Vasily Levi is third from left. Photographer unknown. Lauri Haataja Repin Collection. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery

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Magnus Enckell, Music, 1906, soft-ground etching, 33 x 42,5 cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

Article: Finlandia – From National Tableau to ­Triumphal Anthem

Timo Huusko, PhD.Lic., Chief Curator, Finnish National Gallery, Ateneum Art Museum

First published in Hanna-Leena Paloposki (ed.), Sibelius and the World of Art. Ateneum Publications Vol. 70. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, 2014, 253–60.

Jean Sibelius’s Finlandia was originally composed as the last part of a six-part series of historical tableaux presented in Helsinki in November 1899. It was commissioned for a celebration of the Finnish press held at the Swedish Theatre in Helsinki, which stood as an example of the counter-censorship struggles of the time. Finlandia was performed after a tableau depicting the Great Northern War.[1]

The link between the composition and the awakening of Finnish national self-awareness was clear from the start. In the programme, the text describing the sixth part read: ‘The dark powers have not succeeded in carrying out their dire threat. Finland awakes. From among the spirits of the age that are writing the pages of history, one rises up to tell the story of Alexander II. Memories of this awakening are evoked. Runeberg bending his ear to his muse, Snellman declaiming words of awakening to students, Lönnrot writing down the poems of two singers, the four spokesmen of the first Diet, primary school, the first railway engine.’ The tableau also included a poem by the Finnish poet Eino Leino: ‘Kyntäkää, kylväkää, toukojen, toivojen aika on tää. / Toivehet milloin toteutuu, / milloin halla ne syö. / Nyt on Suomen toukokuu, / nyt on kynnön ja kylvön työ, / leikkuu, korjuu – kaikki muu / jääköön Herran huomaan.[2]

According to Erik Tawaststjerna, the patriotic force of the composition became clear at the latest in December that year, 1899, when it was performed at a concert in Helsinki, conducted by Robert Kajanus, as part of a symphonic series compiled from five compositions.[3] The piece was named Finlandia in March 1900. The idea for the title came from Axel Carpelan, an eccentric baron, music-lover and Sibelius’s future patron, who suggested it to Sibelius in his first letter to the composer.[4] At the 1900 Paris World Fair, it was performed at the Trocadéro under the title La Patrie.[5]

[1] Sirén 2012, 200.

[2] Tawaststjerna 1997, 139. ‘Now to ploughing! Now to seeding! / The time for planting and hopes is nigh. / Sometimes hopes are fulfilled, / Sometimes nipped by the frost. / Now is spring in Finland, / Now for the work of ploughing and sowing, / Cutting and tying – May everything else / Be with God.’ Translation from Goss, Glenda Dawn, 2009. Sibelius. A Composer’s Life and the Awakening of Finland. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

[3] Tawaststjerna 1997, 139.

[4] Dahlström 2010, 59. Carpelan himself was not particularly wealthy, but he procured patrons for Sibelius.

[5] Dahlström 2010, 35.

Featured image: Magnus Enckell, Music, 1906, soft-ground etching, 33 x 42,5cm
Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

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Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait of the Artist Léopold Survage, 1918, oil on canvas, 61,5cm x 46cm, Finnish National Gallery, Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Amedeo Modigliani and the Portrait of Léopold Survage

Timo Huusko, PhD.Lic., Chief Curator, Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki

Published in English exclusively in FNG Research. Transl. Wif Stenger

In 1918 Amedeo Modigliani (1884–1920) painted a portrait of his fellow artist Léopold Survage (1879–1968), who was a good friend – indeed, one of Modigliani’s biographers describes Survage as one of his true artist friends after 1913, the other being Chaïm Soutine.[1]

Their friendship likely aided the success of the portrait. Modigliani, after all, was primarily interested in the model’s personality, more so than his or her external features. As a result, when he painted strangers he had to spend quite a long time getting to know them. Most often, the actual painting itself proceeded quickly.

The portrait of Survage is apparently the only oil painting by Modigliani in Finnish ownership. It shows traits that are characteristic of Modigliani’s oeuvre. The elegant use of lines from old Italian art is combined with a more painterly approach to colour in the background and clothing. The face, which is more firmly formed, stands out from the stippled background, creating an impression of a reserved but sensitive man.

In this portrait Modigliani, in his typical manner, has stretched the subject’s face and neck, while dropping the shoulder line. The model is basically recognisable when one compares it to photographs of Survage that were taken later. The work still reflects the artist’s interest in taking influences from art that were considered non-European and primitive. However the shaping of the face is not as angular as those painted in Modigliani’s portraits two or three years earlier.

On the other hand the work does not yet show the kind of mannerism sometimes brought into later paintings with the use of stylised curved lines and a smoothing of the background. Of the works in the ‘Amedeo Modigliani’ retrospective exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum (2016–17), the closest to that of Survage is probably the portrait of Gaston Modot (Centre Pompidou, Paris), which was painted in the same year, 1918.

[1] William Fifield, Modigliani. The Biography. New York: Morrow, 1976, 180.

Featured image: Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait of the Artist Léopold Survage, 1918, oil on canvas, 61,5cm x 46cm, Finnish National Gallery, Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

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