Screen capture of the Finnish National Gallery Archive Collections webpage Lähteillä with material related to artist Hugo Simberg

Editorial: Linking Researchers and Museum Collections Data

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

 

30 November 2017

 

One of the topics of this issue is Hugo Simberg (1873–1917), who is one of the most well-known artists in the Finnish art of the turn of the 19th century. Many national
art histories have their ‘golden ages’ and Finland’s relates to this particular period
when Hugo Simberg, together with artists such as Helene Schjerfbeck and Akseli
Gallen-Kallela, renewed Finnish visual art in the spirit of international early modernism. A fascinating aspect of Hugo Simberg’s work has always been the way in which he weaves myths and tales together with an animated feeling of nature.

Hugo Simberg is also one of the artists who is exceptionally richly represented in the Finnish National Gallery’s collections. Together with some 800 art works, the museum holds a significant number of documents such as the artist’s letters and photographs both taken by him or of him. All of the materials in the collections have been thoroughly catalogued at different times, according to varying methods and means.

Today, museums and other cultural heritage organisations are expected to emphasise their ability and willingness to share the cultural property that they possess as widely as possible. At the Finnish National Gallery digital technologies have enabled us to increase digital collections data in our databases and to deliver this information via cultural heritage platforms such as Europeana or the Finnish portal Finna.

Even so, there is still a whole lot of work to be done. Improving collections metadata together with choosing the right digital platforms will enable us to connect datasets that have not previously been linked. If we succeed in carrying out this current objective, this will also strengthen our role as a relevant research organisation and facilitator. All users of digital collections will profit from better data, researchers and research included.

Generating principles for creating relevant collections metadata that meet the needs of future research also requires research skills. We need clearly defined problems to be solved, relevant working methods shared by an active team and a focused plan for reaching the goal. A museum’s mission of being a source of high-quality knowledge is no longer fulfilled only by keeping the collections but also by finding ways to connect those collections to other sources of knowledge via digital metadata.

At the Finnish National Gallery we are looking forward to migrating all of the collections data to a new platform. In the future we wish to serve researchers all around the world with data that will foster the creation of new knowledge about artists such as Hugo Simberg in new and so far unimagined contexts.

To view Hugo Simberg’s works at the Finnish National Gallery’s current collections web page click here:

Featured image: Screen capture of the Finnish National Gallery Archive Collections webpage Lähteillä with material related to artist Hugo Simberg

 

Wilhelm von Wright, Cuckoo-Wrasse, Male, in Skandinaviens Fiskar, 1836–57, lithograph, hand coloured, 24.5 x 29.5 cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

Artist Brothers Magnus, Wilhelm and Ferdinand von Wright at the Intersection of Art and Science

Anne-Maria Pennonen, MA, Curator, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki

Also published in Erkki Anttonen & Anne-Maria Pennonen (eds.), The Brothers von Wright – Art, Science and Life. Ateneum Publications Vol. 99. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, 11–34. Transl. Wif Stenger

Magnus, Wilhelm and Ferdinand von Wright are integral figures in the history of science and culture in 19th-century Finland and Sweden. They are sometimes referred to as if they were one and the same person, although each had his own, distinct career. The brothers are best known for their paintings and prints of birds but, as well as scientific illustrations, the work of Magnus and Ferdinand also includes many drawings, paintings and still-lifes. In fact, the eldest of the brothers, Magnus, became one of the most prominent landscape painters in Finland in the 1840s, and the youngest, Ferdinand, in the 1850s. Ferdinand also painted several portraits. The middle brother, Wilhelm, who made his career in Sweden, concentrated on scientific illustration, mostly in graphic prints. Over the many years of depicting and observing birds, the brothers acquired a depth of scientific knowledge that justifies calling them ornithologists; Magnus in particular is generally considered to be a pioneer of Finnish ornithology.[1]

It is clear, when we look at their work, that their careers unfolded at the intersection of science and art, and it is sometimes difficult to tell the two apart. While the works are regarded stylistically as part of the tradition of Biedermeier or Romanticism, the scientific accuracy and detail of the pictures is far more important. On the other hand, the brothers’ works communicate a special affection for nature, while also representing the ideals of beauty of the time. This applies especially to Magnus and Wilhelm, who were working at a time when photography was not yet sufficiently sophisticated,[2] and when drawing and painting were the only adequate methods of documenting matters visually.

Magnus, Wilhelm and Ferdinand von Wright’s interest in the natural world was awakened early on in their childhood home in Haminalahti, near the town of Kuopio, and their careers in art began with an amateur interest in drawing. One of their sources of inspiration were hunting trips in the company of their father, Henrik Magnus von Wright. In addition to the birds that they caught, the brothers also drew and painted watercolours of views around their home, a country manor, as well as the people they met. Apart from Haminalahti and Kuopio, the brothers worked primarily in Helsinki and its surroundings, although Magnus did make extensive field trips to South and East Finland. Their work in Sweden mostly consisted of scientific illustration undertaken in three primary locations: initially in Stockholm and on the nearby island of Mörkö, and later on the island of Orust in the Bohuslän province on the west coast.

[1] Leikola, Anto, 2011. History of Zoology in Finland 1828–1918. In Kalevi Riekkinen (ed.), The History of Learning and Science in Finland 1828–1918. Helsinki: Societas Scientiarum Fennica, 57; Lindström, Aune, 1932. Taiteilijaveljekset von Wright. Helsinki: Otava, 3. Henrik Magnus von Wright and his wife, Maria Elisabeth (née Tuderus) had ten children, of whom Magnus (1805–68) was the eldest, Wilhelm (1810–87) second eldest, and Ferdinand (1822−1906) the youngest. The family had altogether four daughters and six sons, four of whom became ornithologists.

[2] The use of photography as a tool among Finnish artists did not become common practice until the 1880s.

Featured image: Wilhelm von Wright, Cuckoo-Wrasse, Male, illustration from Skandinaviens Fiskar, 1836–57, lithograph, hand-coloured, 24.5 x 29.5cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

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Hugo Simberg, Garden of Death 1896, watercolour and gouache on paper, mounted on etching paper, 15.8 x 17.5cm, Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jouko Könönen

New Perspectives on Hugo Simberg’s Contribution to Symbolism

Interview by Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

One of Finland’s great fin-de siècle artists, Hugo Simberg, is less well known abroad, yet his travels in Europe, argues Marja Lahelma in her new book on the artist, had a more extensive impact on his work than had been previously thought

The shared goal of the Finnish National Gallery with its three museums – Ateneum Art Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma and Sinebrychoff Art Museum – is to facilitate and actively generate new approaches to the body of research on the most well-known artists in Finnish art history and in the museum’s collections. The book series Artists of the Ateneum invites some of the best experts in the field to contribute in this work. The second book in the series focuses on Hugo Simberg (1873–1917).

When art historian Dr. Marja Lahelma was invited to write the book on Simberg for this series, she was given six months to research and turn in her manuscript. This might seem a tight deadline, particularly as Lahelma concedes she did not consider herself an expert on the artist. However, the result is a concise, comprehensive book that takes a fresh look at one of Finland’s most unusual and highly regarded artists of the fin-de-siècle period.

Lahelma is no stranger to this period in Nordic art history and her credentials show she was well placed to undertake this project. ‘My PhD thesis was on the dynamics of self and art in the fin de siècle – I had also delivered a conference paper on the connections between the work of Hans Holbein and Hugo Simberg, and the Ateneum Art Museum wanted a book that offered a fresh perspective on Simberg.’

Featured image: Hugo Simberg, The Garden of Death, 1896, watercolour and gouache on paper, mounted on etching paper, 15.8 x 17.5cm, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jouko Könönen

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Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Study of a Female Head (recto), c. 1730, black chalk with white chalk highlights, 28.5cm x 21cm, Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

Editorial: Network Gains

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

 

26 September 2017

 

Whether we are talking about research work or exhibition planning, the key words are collaboration and networks. For curators working with Dutch and Flemish Art there is CODART, an international network for curators of art from the Low Countries. CODART organises annual conferences and other scholarly meetings that also provide platforms for exchanging ideas on research and exhibition collaboration. The Caesar van Everdingen exhibition at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum from spring 2017 is a good example of the importance of these kinds of networks.

In the field of Old Masters the research work carried out by the Sinebrychoff Art Museum is international from the very beginning. When it comes to the exhibitions, one of our strategies is organising exhibitions that grow out of the research into works that are the highlights of our own collection. The research process itself can be long and painstaking as it usually involves specialists from different fields of expertise such as conservators, technicians, of course not forgetting art historians.

A good example of this kind of international collaboration is the research work that is being carried out by the museum into the provenance of two Tiepolo paintings, The Rape of the Sabine Women by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696–1770) and Greeks Entering Troy by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (1727–1804). The art of the Tiepolos was highly appreciated and sought after by the art collectors in northern countries such as Russia and Sweden during the late-18th and 19th centuries. Ira Westergård, Chief Curator at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum, is leading the provenance research project on the two Tiepolo paintings. In an interview in this issue she talks about the importance of provenance research in art-historical practice.

Also in this issue of FNG Research the Finnish National Gallery is announcing its second Call for Research Interns, for 2018.

Featured image: Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Study of a Female Head (recto), c. 1730, black chalk with white chalk highlights, 28.5cm x 21cm, Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

Gunnar Berndtson, Almée, an Egyptian Dancer, 1883, oil on panel, 45 x 37.5cm Antell Collections. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Layers of Fantasy – Gunnar Berndtson’s Almée

Elina Heikka, MA, Director, The Finnish Museum of Photography, Helsinki

I first came across the painting Almée, an Egyptian Dancer, by Gunnar Berndtson (1854–1895) in 1989, when I was looking through the picture archives of the Ateneum Art Museum as part of my research for a series of short television programmes about music that I was co-producing. I found a black-and-white photograph of the work on cardboard backing. At the time, the actual painting hung in the office of then Director General of the National Board of Customs in Kaleva House, a neo-Renaissance building on Erottaja in Helsinki. Designed by Theodor Höijer, the neo-Renaissance palace with its decorative interiors seemed to echo the spirit of the fantastical interior in Almée (1883), and the exoticism of the painting established a thematic connection with the international profile of the Customs Board. These factors may well have contributed to the decision regarding where to place the work, which belonged to the collection of the Ateneum Art Museum. At the time, the painting had not been displayed in the Ateneum except as a photographic reproduction in Berndtson’s 1896 memorial exhibition,[1] which also explained why it was relatively unknown.

The painting of an almée (almeh, meaning an Oriental dancer) with a drummer, was perfect for illustrating the musical theme of our programme. The black drum player, however, is an indistinct presence on the right-hand side of the painting, while the dancer dominates in the foreground with her curving, bare back and hips. Also in the picture are two apparently European gentlemen, one of whom is reclining on a sofa in a window recess, leaning on his elbow and holding a water pipe in his hand. The other spectator is closer to the viewer, sitting in the Western manner. The postures of the two men indicate that they are watching the performance with great concentration; however, they are not displaying their acclaim but rather acting with cultivated restraint befitting of the civilised upper classes of the time. The topic of the work is suspect as regards its propriety – the garment on the floor would seem to imply a striptease performance – but the artist manages quite well to avoid any hint of indecency. The viewer’s attention is drawn instead to the sumptuous interior: the archway that divides the space and the stained-glass windows, the multi-coloured light on the wall reminiscent of the glitter of jewels, of mythic, abundant treasures of the Orient.

[1] Katalog öfver arbeten af Gunnar Berndtson utställda i Ateneum. Februari 1896. Helsinki.

Featured image: Gunnar Berndtson, Almée, an Egyptian Dancer, 1883, oil on panel, 45 x 37.5cm. Antell Collections, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

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Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, The Rape of the Sabine Women, c. 1718–1719, oil on canvas, 43.5 x 74cm Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jouko Könönen

Every Picture Has a Story

Interview by Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

As the Sinebrychoff Art Museum embarks on a research project in preparation for an exhibition of paintings by the Tiepolos, Chief Curator Dr. Ira Westergård talks to Gill Crabbe about the importance of provenance research in art-historical practice

Provenance research is an increasingly important aspect of art-historical research within art museums, not just in terms of acquisitions but also in maintaining the quality of their collections and strengthening their loan activities, as well as contributing to the wider canon of academic knowledge. Good museum practice includes a concept of stewardship that extends to an active commitment to developing an ever deepening understanding of the objects in their care.

There are trends in art-history practice just as there are trends in how art itself is collected and displayed. Today the importance of provenance research is affected not only by an increasing interest in exploring the contextual history of art objects, but also by concerns since the late-20th century surrounding the legality of ownership and the expropriation of cultural property, as well as of course the processes of attribution and authentication of an artwork. In the past century in particular, many important works of art, especially Old Masters, have been dispersed in museums and private collections all around the world, so the trend for current art-historical exhibitions is also to reunite artworks that are considered to have been closely linked, in order to learn more about an artist’s oeuvre.

So it is timely that the Sinebrychoff Art Museum is currently reviewing the provenance of two of its paintings in preparation for an exhibition focusing on the interest of collectors in the art of the Tiepolos in late-18th and 19th-century Northern Europe. ‘We aim to clarify that the archival documents already known are correct and to see what more can be found,’ explains Ira Westergård, Chief Curator at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum, who is heading up the provenance research project on its two Tiepolo paintings, The Rape of the Sabine Women by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696–1770) and Greeks Entering Troy by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (1727–1804). ‘We want to go further and look into a wider range of archives. We also want to look into the provenance from the starting point of the works – that is a part of the provenance that has yielded very little documentation so far. One of the aims of this exhibition is to look at how these paintings from the 18th century travelled from the art market to collections and thence to public collections in Europe.’

Featured image: Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, The Rape of the Sabine Women, c. 1718–19, oil on canvas, 43.5cm x 74cm. Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jouko Könönen

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Geomancer, 4K video, Lawrence Lek, 2017. Commissioned for Jerwood/FVU Awards 2017: Neither One Thing or Another, supported by the Jerwood Charitable Foundation and the Film and Video Umbrella

Digital, Post-Digital and Not Merely Digital: On Technological Practices in and out of the Arts

Jussi Parikka, Professor in Technological Culture & Aesthetics, Winchester School of Art (University of Southampton), UK, and Docent in Digital Culture Theory, University of Turku, Finland

An abstract of the keynote lecture Jussi Parikka gave at Kiasma, on 6 April 2017 at the Digital Escapees Seminar, an open discussion forum on science, art and research organised by Uniarts Helsinki, the University of Helsinki and the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma

A range of contemporary art and critical design practices engage with digital technologies in ways that can give excellent ideas for the digital humanities to explore too. The enthusiasm that ‘the digital has become a subject of humanities research’ should be complemented with the realisation that technical media that were non-digital have been around for a longer time, affecting innovative work in visual and technical arts. Besides an excavation into the media archaeology of for example computer graphics, we can look at the current terms used for the art methodologies that extend into data culture, artificial intelligence and machine vision. The term ‘post-digital’ is one such widely discussed suggestion. The concept does not mean an interest in what comes after the digital, but a realisation that the digital has already been here as material infrastructure, aesthetic repertoire and conceptual focus for at least some decades. From the digital of 8-bit sounds and graphics of the 1980s to the current forms of materially embedded Internet of Things and data applications, this means a shift for various critical arts and humanities work too.

Featured image: Geomancer, 4K video, Lawrence Lek, 2017. Commissioned for Jerwood/FVU Awards 2017: Neither One Thing or Another, supported by the Jerwood Charitable Foundation and the Film and Video Umbrella

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