Magnus Enckell, a page from a sketch book, 1912, probably showing the Variety Theatre Bal Tabar in Paris, pencil on paper, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

Editorial: Taking the Long View

 Riitta Ojanperä, PhD, Director of Collections Management, Finnish National Gallery

 

27 November 2020

 

This autumn all three museums of the Finnish National Gallery have been a hive of activity. New shows have been opened and our audiences have received their exhibition programmes with enthusiasm. This is most rewarding after the Covid-19 lockdown earlier this year. It underlines the relevance of long-term and focussed art-history based research, which is the steady cornerstone of our exhibition programmes. Our current programme opens new horizons in looking at both Finnish and Italian art.

In this issue of FNG Research magazine we publish four articles that first appeared earlier this autumn in the context of a monographic exhibition of the artist Magnus Enckell (1870–1925) at the Ateneum Art Museum. Enckell was one of the key figures during the period when Finnish artists were being influenced by Symbolist phenomena in Paris during the early 1890s. Some 20 years later, Enckell was considered to be one of the first to lead Finnish painters towards a notable strand of Neo-Impressionism.

Comprehensive exhibitions of Enckell’s work have been rare in recent decades, but both the man and his art have been a constant source of interest to Finnish critics and art historians since his death. Enckell has been considered an enigmatic and rather inaccessible person. In the late 1900s and early 2000s, one reason for this was revealed in the art-historical studies undertaken by Harri Kalha, as well as Juha-Heikki Tihinen. Kalha’s article in the current exhibition catalogue, based on his extensive monographic study from 2005, discusses the discursive strategies of veiling and unveiling Enckell’s covert homosexuality, which seemingly created a deliberately enigmatic and rather inaccessible aura around Enckell’s person. Marja Lahelma sheds light on Enckell’s work after the turn of the 20th century from the perspective of the philosophical and health-promoting aspects of vitalism. The theme of plein air and marine landscape in relation to Enckell’s art is discussed by Anne-Maria Pennonen. And a new approach towards the artist’s late career is outlined by Marja Sakari, one of the exhibition’s curators.

For the first time ever in Finland, the Sinebrychoff Art Museum brings together more than 20 oil paintings, in addition to drawings and etchings, by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo and his son Domenico. The exhibition includes a significant tranche of drawings by the Tiepolos from The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, whose leading Tiepolo expert, Dr Irina Artemieva, is interviewed in this issue. According to Dr Artemieva, the very subject of the exhibition, Tiepolo’s art in Northern Europe, is already new and offers a fresh approach to the study of these great Venetian masters. The show, and the research associated with the exhibition that is published in an accompanying catalogue, is set to stimulate justified interest and surprises among Tiepolo specialists internationally.

FNG Research magazine, together with the Ateneum Art Museum, the Contemporary Art Museum Kiasma and the Sinebrychoff Art Museum, wishes readers and collaborators inspiring and thought-provoking discoveries in our latest issue.

Featured image: Magnus Enckell, a page from a sketch book, 1912, probably showing the Variety Theatre Bal Tabar in Paris, pencil on paper, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni 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: Lorenzo Tiepolo, after Giambattista Tiepolo, Triumph of Venus, Catalogo di varie Opere (…), 1774, etching.  The National Library of Finland, Helsinki Photo: The National Library of Finland

Tiepolo and the Russian Connection

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

Following the recent opening of a groundbreaking Tiepolo exhibition at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum, one of the key contributors, Tiepolo expert Dr Irina Artemieva, Keeper of Venetian paintings at the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, discusses the research and international collaboration involved in the FNG project

Dr Artemieva, you joined The State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg in 1982 and became Keeper of 15th to 18th-century Venetian paintings in 1985. How did you become interested in the works of the Tiepolos?

Works by the Tiepolos make up a very important part of the collection of Venetian art of the 18th century and therefore from the start I set about finding out as much as I could about them and about the works, with the intention of adding in new information to that gathered by my predecessors.

 

You are also the scientific director of The Hermitage-Italy Centre in Venice. What is the importance of The Hermitage-Italy Centre for your research and for your links to Italian colleagues?

I was appointed scientific director of The Hermitage-Italy Centre in Venice because over the course of my work – and it’s nearly 40 years that I have been working at the Hermitage – I have formed very friendly and fruitful relationships with many of my Italian colleagues. I know nearly all the key members of staff of the leading museums in Italy and lots of specialists in specific areas. As for my acquaintance with Tiepolo specialists, my own interest – and the reason why I have gone more deeply into the study of Tiepolo – has been connected with the preparation of a major international exhibition and conference that marked the 300th anniversary of the birth of Giambattista Tiepolo, which took place in Venice back in 1996. For that conference I prepared a large paper on the history of the ceilings by Tiepolo painted for St Petersburg.

 

The art of Tiepolo found its way into important Russian collections already in the 18th century and its popularity continued throughout the 19th century. How do you explain this and the importance of Tiepolo in Russia?

Giambattista Tiepolo is, of course, one of the leading artists of the 18th century. His art marks the apotheosis of Venetian painting: the triumph of light and colour, its ability to convey aspects of reality through even the most imaginary subject. Tiepolo’s imagination had no limits and he was able to master any format, any form, from the smallest to most grandiose, but it was in the latter that he most majestically gave embodiment to his art. Art that demanded above all great internal spaces. Interiors of this kind were only to be found in royal and princely residences and, of course, to commission a master of such a level demanded huge financial resources. So it’s not surprising that he worked in the area of monumental painting in Venice both for the old and the new aristocracy – particularly the new – creating grandiose cycles and fresco wall paintings at the Palazzo Labia in Venice, and at the Villa Cordellina, and Villa Valmarana in Vicenza, as well as abroad. There’s a particularly interesting article in the catalogue accompanying the Sinebrychoff Art Museum exhibition devoted to Tiepolo’s links with Swedish clients and the attempt to invite him to paint a grand ceiling for the royal palace in Stockholm, although unfortunately this commission never took place. For Russia too the grand style was close to the heart of the monarchs and during the reign of Elizabeth, from 1741–62, when there was a huge amount of palace building, there was particular interest in the art of Tiepolo. His painting was really best suited to the style and the architecture of Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli (1700–71) and attempts were made to commission works by Tiepolo for Elizabeth’s new winter palace. Three ceilings were also commissioned by the Chancellor of the Russian Empire, Count Mikhail Illarionovich Vorontsov (1714–67), for his palace on Sadovaya Ulitsa in St Petersburg.

As for later purchases, even in the 18th century, we see that only the richest Russian aristocrats could afford to adorn their mansions with works by Tiepolo, among them Prince Nikolai Borisovich Yusupov (1750–1831) and Chancellor Alexandr Andreyevich Bezborodko (1747–99). At the start of the 19th century a large monumental canvas, The Banquet of Cleopatra (1747), was acquired for the new imperial residence the Mikhail Castle. We see thereafter how even in the second half of the 19th century, thanks to the Russian patron Baron Alexandr Stieglitz (1814–84), half of the monumental cycle created by Tiepolo for the Ca’ Dolfin was also acquired. Later Russia became the home of one of the best collections of monumental paintings by Tiepolo. The significance of this collection cannot be exaggerated, even though not all of the works have survived to the present day.

Featured image: Lorenzo Tiepolo, after Giambattista Tiepolo, Triumph of Venus, Catalogo di varie Opere (…), 1774, etching.
The National Library of Finland, Helsinki
Photo: The National Library of Finland

 

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Magnus Enckell, From Suursaari Island, 1902, gouache and pencil on paper, 46.8cm x 66.4cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

Magnus Enckell on the Islands in the Gulf of Finland

Anne-Maria Pennonen, PhD, Curator, 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

Finnish artists began to find visual themes for their works on the islands of the eastern Gulf of Finland in the 19th century. In particular, Suursaari (known as Hogland in Swedish and Gogland in Russian) attracted many artists and became a popular place to visit and paint each summer. The island was also referred to as Paratiisisaari (‘Paradise Island’) and ‘the pearl of the Gulf of Finland’.

Magnus Enckell visited Suursaari nearly every summer between 1901 and 1912. In his day, the island had not yet become the tourist destination it would be in the 1920s. Many artists depicted the island, which is now part of Russia, until the war years of the 1940s. It was handed over to the Soviet Union as part of the Moscow Armistice of 1944.[1] Besides Suursaari, Enckell also visited another island that now belongs to Russia, Pitkäpaasi, as well as Kuorsalo, which is closer to the mainland and part of the Finnish city of Hamina. During his summers on these islands, Enckell created many works portraying the sea, as well as life on the islands and their inhabitants.

Enckell was attracted to maritime life and sailing, in particular from the early 20th century onwards, enjoying the fresh air during long boating jaunts with friends. In this period, health officials were propagating new information about the role of the sun and light, particularly in combatting infectious diseases. Artists too were interested in the fashionable trends of the day, such as naturism and neovitalism. According to naturist ideals, natural nudity without restrictive clothing or shoes, as well as sunbathing and swimming, helped the body to free itself from the shackles of civilisation. Neovitalist thought, on the other hand, saw the individual as part of a life force that governs nature. It aimed to improve a person’s wellbeing through physical culture, while at the same time warding off the ills brought on by modern urban life.[2] These new movements were entwined with the popularity of Suursaari, where the rocky shore hid sheltered inlets with sandy beaches, which later became dotted with colourful changing huts and where the island’s summer residents swam and basked in the sun.[3]

[1] Leena Räty. Paratiisisaari. Menetetty Suursaari taiteilijoiden kuvaamana. Lappeenranta: Etelä-Karjalan taidemuseo, 2002, 5.

[2] Riitta Ojanperä. ‘Vitality’, in Timo Huusko (ed.), Surface and Depth. Early Modernism in Finland 1890−1920. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, 2001, (94–112) 96–97; Riitta Ojanperä. ‘Keho, vauhti ja voima’, in Pinx. Maalaustaide Suomessa. Maalta kaupunkiin. Porvoo: Weilin & Göös, 2002, (252–55) 254–55; Riitta Ojanperä. Taidekriitikko Einari J. Vehmas ja moderni taide. Helsinki: Valtion taidemuseo / Kuvataiteen keskusarkisto, 2010, 233−36. See also Marja Lahelma. ‘Colour Revolution, Vitalism and the Ambivalence of Modern Arcadia’, in Hanne Selkokari (ed.), Magnus Enckell 1870−1925. Ateneum Publications Vol. 141. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, 2020, 143–55; also published in FNG Research 6/2020.

[3] See J. W. Mattila and Jorma Mattila. Suursaari. Helsinki: WSOY, 1941.

Featured image: Magnus Enckell, From Suursaari Island, 1902, gouache and pencil on paper, 46.8cm x 66.4cm. Finnish National Gallery /
Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni 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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Magnus Enckell, Man and Swan, 1918, oil on canvas, 108cm x 80cm Gösta Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation, Mänttä Photo: Vesa Aaltonen

Colour Revolution, Vitalism and the Ambivalence of Modern Arcadia

Marja Lahelma, PhD, Scholar, 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. Don McCracken

At the end of the first decade of the 20th century, Magnus Enckell, whose works were formerly known for their sparse content and reduced colour, began to make paintings using a free brush technique and a bright palette. This new direction is represented by Boys on the Beach, a landscape he painted in Suursaari in 1910, which glows in shades of pink, purple, blue and yellow. The sea is calm, but the curve of the shoreline, the tense position of the boy in the foreground and the strong brushstrokes infuse the work with a rhythm and a sense of movement. The sparkling light of the sun is reflected through the tops of the trees, from the stones on the shore and the boys’ bare skin. The work can be said to be vitalist in terms of both its subject matter and its execution.

The vitalist movement, which advocated a natural, healthy and liberated lifestyle, emerged at the turn of the 20th century in opposition to the decadence of modern life and its destructive impact on physical and spiritual wellbeing. Although the development of technology and science, and the industrialisation and urbanisation that went hand in hand with that, ushered in greater prosperity, it was felt that modern life had at the same time alienated people from nature. The prevailing mechanistic world view and profit-based culture created a deep division between the body and spirit, and between people and their natural environment. Vitalism manifested in the content and ideas of the art world through, for instance, depictions of outdoor life, sunlight, water and the naked – especially the male – human body. Vitalist-themed works often employed a style and composition that emphasised an impression of dynamism and also expressed the deeper philosophical foundation of vitalism.[1]

[1] Sven Halse. ‘Wide-Ranging Vitalism: On the Concept and Phenomenon of Vitalism in Philosophy and Art’, in Gertrud Hvidberg-Hansen and Gertrud Oelsner (eds.), The Spirit of Vitalism: Health, Beauty and Strength in Danish Art, 1890–1940. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum, 2011, (47–57) 52.

Featured image: Magnus Enckell, Man and Swan, 1918, oil on canvas, 108cm x 80cm. Gösta Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation, Mänttä
Photo: Vesa Aaltonen

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Magnus Enckell, Awakening Faun, 1914, oil on canvas, 65.5cm x 81cm Hoving Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

From Delectation to Degeneration: Splashes of Chromophobia in Enckelliana

Harri Kalha, PhD, Scholar, author / Adjunct professor, University of Helsinki & University of Turku

Also published in Hanne Selkokari (ed.), Magnus Enckell 1870−1925. Ateneum Publications Vol. 141. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, 2020

Society speaks verbosely of its own silence, takes great pains to relate in detail the things it does not say, denounces the powers it exercises…
– Michel Foucault

‘What on earth? Are we really at an exhibition of the artist Magnus Enckell?’, exclaimed Kasimir Leino, critic for Uusi Suometar, in May 1909. For a few years now, the painter had delved into colour, and reactions were ambiguous. One of the main works exhibited was a portrait of veteran artist Albert Edelfelt. ‘Its mottled background disturbs us’, the critic pondered, ‘why splash greens and reds onto Edelfelt’s familiarly somber features, and add violet, even green onto his greying hair? We consider such folly a trivial nod to recent fashions […].’[1]

Some four years later ‘R-o.’ of Pohjalainen berated the ‘excessive refinement and delectation which risks becoming rather sugary. Thus a work like Parisian variety show is downright sickly sweet [äitelä in Finnish].’[2] The colourful depiction might well be seen as capturing the essence of modernity in all its fleeting fancy, yet the verdict was grim.

The reception of Enckell’s colour paintings seems particularly harsh when expressed by the era’s most respected connoisseurs. Edvard Richter of Helsingin Sanomat praised, in a 1917 article, Enckell’s earlier oeuvre as ‘peerless products of linear strength and plastic feeling’, but he continued: ‘What is there to say about Enckell’s paintings in this new exhibition? In all honesty, they are good. However – they are good because Mrs. H’s portrait is finely drafted and the portrait of Mrs. C with son is masterfully composed. Were I to say anything more, it would not be in earnest.’[3]

Even so, Richter could not refrain from adding: ‘Their colours don’t delight my eyes, they express nothing but a rather excessively bright red, an immoderate working of colours, which have lost their sense of freshness.’

[1] Kasimir Leino. ‘Magnus Enckellin näyttely’, Uusi Suometar, No. 120, 29 May 1909.

[2] R-o. ‘Ryhmänäyttely Ateneumissa’, Pohjalainen, 14 April 1913.

[3] Edvard Richter [E. R-r.]. ‘Septemin näyttely’, Helsingin Sanomat, 11 February 1917.

Featured image: Magnus Enckell, Awakening Faun, 1914, oil on canvas, 65.5cm x 81cm
Hoving Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni 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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Leena Luostarinen, Rain, 1981, oil on canvas, 100cm x 180cm. Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Antti Kuivalainen

Does Gender Matter? Leena Luostarinen and the Art Debate Taking Place in Finnish Daily Newspapers in the 1980s and 1990s

Karita Kivikoski, MA student, University of Helsinki

This report is published as a result of a three-month research internship at the Finnish National Gallery

During my internship at the Finnish National Gallery I studied the Finnish painter Leena Luostarinen[1] (1949–2013) and her exhibition reviews in the Finnish daily newspapers. Using these sources, I was able to gain some insight into the Finnish art debate taking place in the 1980s and 1990s. Luostarinen is associated with the new painting[2] and expressionism of the 1980s, as well as the powerful emergence of women painters at that time. In addition, a romantic attitude can be found in her art.[3] The new painting in Finland did not emerge as a counter-reaction to minimalism or the ‘linguistic’[4] nature of conceptual art or its over-intellectualisation, as had been the case internationally. In Finland, it was rather a reaction to the ideological and realistic content in art. The starting point of the new painting in Finland at this time was therefore different than it was internationally.[5]

[1] Luostarinen studied at the School of the Fine Arts Academy of Finland in 1968–72. She received the Ducat prize awarded by the Finnish Art Society in 1974 and the Pro Finlandia Medal in 1995. She was selected as the Artist of the Year in 1988. For more about Leena Luostarinen, see http://www.leenaluostarinen.com (accessed 22 October 2020).

[2] In the beginning of the 1980s the resurgence of painting was a counter-reaction against conceptual art and its lack of images as well as over-intellectualism. Hannu Castrén. ‘Maalaan, olen siis olemassa!’, in Helena Sederholm et al. (eds.), Pinx, Maalaustaide Suomessa. Siveltimen vetoja. Porvoo: Weilin + Göös Oy, 2003, (210–11) 210.

[3] Marja-Terttu Kivirinta. ‘Sfinksejä ja kissoja. Leena Luostarisen pensseli ottaa etäisyyttä modernin taiteen genealogiaan’, in Marja-Terttu Kivirinta, Lasse Saarinen, Leena Luostarinen, Camilla Ahlström-Taavitsainen, Otso Kantokorpi, Päivi Karttunen, Jüri Kokkonen and Pirkko Tuukkanen (eds.), Leena Luostarinen: Tiikerinpiirtäjä = Tigertecknaren = Tiger Drawer. Helsinki: Suomen taideyhdistys, 2013, (15–22) 17; Kimmo Sarje. Romantiikka ja postmoderni. Helsinki: Valtion painatuskeskus, 1989.

[4] The art object was no longer a unique and special ‘means of expression made by hand’. New means of expression came up and the way of expressing conceptual art became ‘linguistic’, even when images were used. Marja Sakari. Käsitetaiteen etiikkaa: suomalaisen käsitetaiteen postmodernia ja fenomenologista tulkintaa. Dimensio 4. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery, 2000, 26.

[5] Inkamaija Iitiä. Käsitteellisestä ruumiilliseen, sitaatiosta paikkaan: maalaustaide ja nykytaiteen historia. Helsinki: Helsingin yliopisto, 2008, 212; Castrén, ‘Maalaan, olen siis olemassa!’, 210.

Featured image: Leena Luostarinen, Rain, 1981, oil on canvas, 100cm x 180cm. Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Antti Kuivalainen

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Giambattista Tiepolo, Study of a Female Head (recto) and Study of a Male Head (verso), c. 1730–31, white and black chalk on paper, 28.5cm x 21cm. Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

Editorial: Reuniting Tiepolos in 2020

Kirsi Eskelinen, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum

 

1 October 2020

 

The COVID-19 pandemic and the closing of international borders has caused major problems for the collaboration of museums worldwide. However, this situation which we all are experiencing, whether we are in Finland or in London, has encouraged museums to find new ways to connect and to work together with colleagues. Museums are also willing to make compromises on their usual procedures, for example with loans to institutions abroad. In a way, I would say that the difficulties have strengthened the will to co-operate and make things happen. This has certainly been the case with the exhibition ‘Tiepolo – Venice in the North’, which opened at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum in September. All of our partner museums were dedicated to making sure the loans that had been agreed reached their destination and they were ready to work very hard to realise our common goal. In the end, the pandemic has also had positive effects – paradoxically this widespread isolation has at the same strengthened the international museum community.

Another aspect of museum work that has gained new attention is the importance and value of museum collections. It might seem a cliché to say that the collection is the heart of a museum. Now collections and the research relating to them have been rediscovered. At the Sinebrychoff Art Museum we have focused on the research work concerning the jewels of our collection during recent years. Conducting research on old masters is time-consuming and is of course based on collaboration with various specialists in the field. The aim of our research is to lead to an exhibition project, which allows us to show our own artworks in their proper and meaningful context. Our Lucas Cranach exhibition in the autumn 2019 was our first of this kind.

‘Tiepolo – Venice in the North’ began as a research project concerning the provenance of two paintings in our museum’s collection. The paintings, The Rape of the Sabine Women, by Giambattista Tiepolo and the Greeks Sacking Troy, by his son Giandomenico Tiepolo, are both oil sketches, which are preparations for full-scale paintings. The National Gallery in London also has two more oil sketches belonging to the same series of the Trojan Horse, namely the Building of the Trojan Horse and The Procession of the Trojan Horse into Troy. We know that these three oil sketches were still together in the early 19th century, when they were sold in St Petersburg. Now, for the first time in 200 years, the three paintings are reunited in Helsinki. This marks one of the major highlights of the show.

In addition to paintings, an important part of the oeuvres of Giambattista and Giandomenico Tiepolo are their drawings and etchings, and these are also well represented in the exhibition. The Sinebrychoff Art Museum has recently acquired a rare, double-sided drawing by Giambattista. The sketch, Study of a Female Head (recto) and Study of a Male Head (verso) is related to the lost frescoes of the Palazzo Archinto in Milan. Scholars are aware of only a few of Giambattista’s early works in chalk and therefore these studies form an important point of reference. Special mention must be also made of a rare loan from the National Library of Finland, an album containing the complete production of etchings by the family members, published by Giandomenico after the death of his father. This album is a uniquely well-preserved example of a first edition hitherto unknown to Tiepolo scholars.

The preliminary idea for the exhibition concept in 2015 was to bring the Trojan Horse series together. However, we soon realised that the Tiepolo small-scale paintings and oil sketches in other Nordic countries, and in Russia, should be included too. Many of the paintings have an important and early provenance related to the royal houses both in Sweden and Russia. Some of these paintings had arrived in these countries already during the lifetime of Giambattista. The exhibition and its accompanying catalogue focus on the story behind his far-reaching reputation and the diffusion of this art to the most northern parts of Europe. The show is the result of a longstanding collaboration between the Sinebrychoff Art Museum, international experts in the Tiepolo field and museum curators in St Petersburg, Stockholm, London and Venice.

Ira Westergård, the Chief Curator of the Sinebrychoff Art Museum, has served as the project manager for this ambitious initiative, which comprises research on the provenance of our two Tiepolo paintings and the exhibition project. In this issue we publish an interview with Ira Westergård, by Gill Crabbe. The article reveals the fascinating world of provenance research.

The Ateneum Art Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art  Kiasma also share the same ambition and passion to promote the research concerning the Finnish National Gallery’s collection. Senior researcher Anu Utriainen presents Elga Sesemann (1922–2007) an artist who was virtually forgotten for many decades in post-war art history and only rediscovered quite recently. Elga Seseman – A Women Artist Rediscovered is a research project that will culminate in an exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum in 2021. Meanwhile, in September the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma opened its exhibition on the sound artist and musician Mika Vainio (1966–2017). The three articles from the exhibition catalogue that we publish in this issue – by Kati Kivinen, Leevi Haapala and Rikke Lundgreen – delineate a portrait of this versatile sound artist and composer, who took part in many international group exhibitions, presenting his spatial sound installations.

This issue of FNG Research also includes a peer-reviewed article by Professor Juliet Simpson, who presents new research on the reception and Nachleben (afterlife) of the art of Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553) during the 19th century and especially during the latter part of it. The paper is entitled ‘Lucas Cranach’s Legacies – “Primitive” and Rooted identities of Art and Nation at the European Fin de Siècle.’

Also in this issue the Finnish National Gallery announces its fifth Call for Research Interns.

With warm wishes for the coming season.

Featured image: Giambattista Tiepolo, Study of a Female Head (recto) and Study of a Male Head (verso), c. 1730–31, white and black chalk on paper, 28.5cm x 21cm. Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

Giandomenico Tiepolo’s oil sketches from the Trojan Horse series: The Building of the Trojan Horse (1773–75) and The Procession of the Trojan Horse (1773–75) Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Tiepolos travelling North

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

As the Sinebrychoff Art Museum brings together works by the 18th-century Venetian masters from across Northern Europe, Gill Crabbe meets Chief Curator Ira Westergård to discuss the research findings behind this groundbreaking exhibition   

Any art-historical research project that sets out to delve into the provenance of artworks, carries with it some risk. The risk that, after committing the valuable resources of time, professional expertise and funding, one might draw a blank. Unexpected and unwanted surprises, such as an unfavourable reattribution, misleading information, or a tainted provenance, are just some of the hazards. Add to that the pressure of linking a research project to an international exhibition that plans to present the research findings, and you have quite a task on your hands. Top that with the unforeseen consequences of a global pandemic at the eleventh hour of mounting an exhibition, and one is navigating truly unprecedented circumstances.

Sitting in the office of Dr Ira Westergård, Chief Curator of the Finnish National Gallery’s Sinebrychoff Art Museum, two days after the opening of its exhibition ‘Tiepolo – Venice in the North’, I am struck by the indefatigable energy – the renowned Finnish sisu – the show’s mastermind exudes, as she apologises for the piles of books and papers spread across all available surfaces – ‘they are all part of other projects I have had to put on hold and are now waiting to be dealt with’. One can see how this dynamism has driven an ambitious project that has brought together paintings and works on paper by these Venetian masters, the Tiepolos father and son, that found their way north and now reside in the UK, Denmark, Sweden, Russia and Finland. Not only that but, perhaps even more importantly, in gathering together key players in the international Tiepolo research community to contribute to the show’s accompanying catalogue, she has spearheaded a publication that is bound to impact the Tiepolo research community for some years to come. ‘This catalogue is as important as the exhibition,’ she says, gripping it with both hands, as she holds it up in front of her. As the many narratives and their twists and turns unfold during our interview, one begins to understand why.

Featured image: Giandomenico Tiepolo’s oil sketches from the Trojan Horse series (1773–75): The Building of the Trojan Horse and The Procession of the Trojan Horse , both on loan from the National Gallery, London, and the Sinebrychoff Art Museums’ The Greeks Sacking Troy. Installation view of the ‘Tiepolo – Venice in the North’ exhibition at the Sinebrychoff art Museum, Helsinki, 2020
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

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Lucas Cranach the Elder, Three Princesses of Saxony, Sibylla (1515–92), Emilia (1516–91) and Sidonia (1518–75), daughters of Duke Heinrich of Frommen, c. 1535, oil on panel, 62cm x 89cm. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna Photo: Bridgeman Images

Peer-Reviewed Article: Lucas Cranach’s Legacies –‘Primitive’ and Rooted identities of Art and Nation at the European Fin de Siècle

Juliet Simpson, Professor and Chair of Art History and Cultural Memory, Research Director, Centre for Arts, Memory and Communities, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Coventry University and Visiting Fellow, the Warburg Institute, University of London

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553) has long been over-shadowed by his more famous contemporaries, Albrecht Dürer and Hans Holbein (the Younger). Yet, during the second half of the 19th century, Cranach’s art and that of his workshop became the focus of significant national and transnational interest. Not only would this transform Cranach’s visibility for modern art, it would bring the very meaning and identity of a German Renaissance and Reformation memory centre-stage, in particular in the German and Nordic world. It is the potency of Cranach’s unexplored ‘afterlife’, his Nachleben (to borrow Aby Warburg’s key concept[1]), which is pivotal for this discussion.

Taking as its focus the celebrated 1899 Cranach Exhibition in Dresden, curated by the Hamburg art historian Karl Woermann, which brought Cranach into a 20th-century spotlight, this article examines three pivotal, yet understudied areas of modern interest in Cranach’s art.[2] First, is a neglected revival and reception of Cranach as a torchbearer of Reformation art and its cultural legacies. In this, Cranach’s work acquires developed significance in the contexts of expanding Romantic and later 19th-century cultural discourses of nationhood, linked to the new-found appeal of the artist’s ‘popular’ so-called ‘primitive’ expressions of piety. Second, are key ways in which such revivals of Cranach’s work stimulate competing cultural narratives of nationhood, memory and artistic identity: tensions, urgent in the range and character of responses generated by the 1899 Dresden Cranach Exhibition and its catalogue.[3] Indeed, drawing on rarely-examined primary sources relating to the exhibition, its catalogue and contemporary critical responses, section three of this article sheds light on ways in which Cranach’s inspiration for redefined symbols of ‘nation’, ‘belonging’ and ‘primitiveness’ was to become determinant. And third is to consider how and to what ends Cranach’s fin-de-siècle reinventions suggestively develop his art’s negotiated legacies of Gothic, Renaissance and Reformation. A particular concern is to investigate Cranach’s appeal for a group of artists, spanning Victorian Britain to German and Nordic Europe, stimulated by a reawakened attraction to the legacies of a German Renaissance which these artists found in Cranach’s art. These reinventions entwine equally with uncanny artistic and cultural reverberations about what ‘Reformation’ is not (the allure of enchantment and of Cranach’s ‘Gothicism’), and with a fascination for what Cranach’s art may become: sensual, erotic; even disturbing and dark. Thus, my key concern is to shed new light on the substantial ‘ripple effect’ created by Cranach’s survival and presence on the late 19th-century European and international art map. It is to illuminate Cranach’s transformation from revivalist curiosity, symbol of ‘nationhood’, into an unexpected ‘other’ modern as a figure of difference, and Dresden into a potent Cranach-Capital (‘Cranach-Stadt’), pre-and post-1899.[4]

[1] In connection with Aby Warburg’s ‘Das Nachleben der Antike’ (in Fritz Saxl, ‘Das Nachleben der Antike: Zur  Einführung in die Bibliothek Warburg’, Hamburger Universitätszeitung, 11: 4, 1921, 245) – but a concept that opens particularly fruitful insights in navigating complex cultural temporalities, notably the ‘survival’ of pre-/early modern in modern cultures, or as Georges Didi-Huberman perceives in relation to his construct of ‘spectral time’, ‘to enter into a time other than habitual chronologies [and], eternal “influences”’, Georges Didi-Huberman. ‘The Surviving Image: Aby Warburg and Tylorian Anthropology’, Oxford Art Journal, vol. 25: 1, 2002, (61–69), 61, 63.

[2] This article is the developed outcome of papers first given at the international conferences on ‘Protestant Images: Faith and Self-Image’ (Veste Coburg, Coburg: October 2017) and ‘European Revivals: Cultural Mythologies around 1900’ (National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh: December 2017) – my thanks to the conference organisers for these opportunities. I would also like to thank the Warburg Institute (School of Advanced Studies, University of London), for the conferral of a Visiting Fellowship (2019–present), for the access to scholarly resources and also the many rich exchanges with Warburg colleagues and Fellows which have greatly advanced my thinking on Cranach’s afterlives, as has fruitful conversations with Prof Dr Gabriele Rippl (Bern), Dr Ralph Gleis (Berlin) and colleagues at the Ateneum Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery (Helsinki), to whom I extend my gratitude. In preparing this article for publication, my thanks to Dr Tim Farrant (Oxford) and to the anonymous peer-reviewers of the final manuscript for their helpful comments and suggestions.

[3] On the extensive art-historiographical reception of the 1899 exhibition and Dresden’s subsequent reputation as a ‘Cranach Capital [of Art]’ (‘eine Cranach-Stadt’), see S. Heiser. Das Frühwerk Lucas Cranachs des Älteren: Wien um 1500 – Dresden um 1900. DVK: Berlin, 2002, see especially, 29–43.

[4] See Harald Marx. ‘Dresden – eine Cranach-Stadt?’, Dresdner Hefte, 52, 1997, 11–24.

Featured image: Lucas Cranach the Elder, Three Princesses of Saxony, Sibylla (1515–92), Emilia (1516–91) and Sidonia (1518–75), daughters of Duke Heinrich of Frommen, c. 1535, oil on panel, 62cm x 89cm. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
Photo: Bridgeman Images

Read more — Download ‘Lucas Cranach’s Legacies –‘Primitive’ and Rooted identities of Art and Nation at the European Fin de Siècle’, by Juliet Simpson, as a PDF

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