Jean Fouquet, Virgin and Child Surrounded by Angels, 1452–58

Conference: Emotional Objects – Northern Renaissance Afterlives in Object, Image and Word, 1890s–1920s

Call for papers

Call for papers deadline: 

30 Sep 2020

Institute:

The Warburg Institute

Conference Dates:

2223 April 2021, Warburg Institute, University of London

In 1920 Louis Gillet, the French art historian and internationalist, published a rousing article defending the repatriation of stolen fragments from the Van Eycks’ Ghent Altarpiece from Germany to Belgium as ‘un drapeau’. His ensign of a Northern patrimony pitched as an emotive call for a different cultural ‘belonging’ post-1918 was part of a pattern. Jean Fouquet’s Melun Diptych was vaunted as both a ‘jewel’, yet the opprobrium of France. At its most charged was the identification of Matthias Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece with extreme War trauma, bodily and mental distress during its 1918–19 Munich display. Yet these Northern Renaissance ‘Afterlives’ remain under-explored.

This symposium aims to develop new knowledge of how these and other responses to the Northern Renaissance (in the period spanning the early 1900s–1920s) become activated via objects, images and words in potently emotive contexts of reception, image transfer, and cultural memory-making to negotiate conflicts of the present.

Key areas of focus will be to consider the significance of new histories, narratives and emblems of Northern Renaissance visual, material and literary cultures, as well as Northern Renaissance cultural and religious legacies. In particular, the aim will be deeper investigation of their entwining with the cultural modernities of the early twentieth century.

Please send proposals of 300 words max, with a short biog. (150 words) to Professor Juliet Simpson, Principal Organiser (Coventry University / Warburg Institute), juliet.simpson@sas.ac.uk by 30 September 2020 (midnight BST). Applicants will be notified of outcomes in early October 2020. A publication based on the conference is planned.

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Featured image: Jean Fouquet, Virgin and Child Surrounded by Angels, 1452–58, Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp
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.

Magnus Enckell, Angel (detail copy after Leonardo da Vinci’s painting Annunciation), 1895, oil on canvas, 100cm x 100cm State Copy Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

Making Art’s Milestones

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

Reimagining iconic artworks from the past has been a continuous thread in creating the story of art. Director General of the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm, Susanna Pettersson, discusses with Gill Crabbe the vision for the exhibition on iconic artworks she has curated, which travels from Stockholm to Helsinki this summer, and how this wide-ranging thematic show was put together

What turns an artwork into an iconic artwork? Who defines a work as iconic, and how does such status evolve, endure or dissolve over time? These are questions that have distilled in the mind of Susanna Pettersson since she started out as a doctoral student in the 1990s studying the history of museums and their collections; questions that matured over the decades as her career path took her from curator to Director General of the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki, and now Director-general of Sweden’s Nationalmuseum in Stockholm, to bear fruit in the exhibition ‘Inspiration – Contemporary Art & Classics’.

Nowadays it is acknowledged that these are questions that can only be partly answered, through offering perspectives made conscious in a given place and time. But when the era of establishing museums began in Europe in the 19th century the (his)story of art was instilled with definite parameters, parameters that determined the art-historical canon and persisted in such a way that it is only relatively recently that they are being challenged, reinterpreted, and augmented.

‘It really started all those years ago in London when I sat in National Art Library of the V&A, reading old publications describing what was appreciated in early 19th-century art, with their clear detailed recommendations as what to keep in mind when travelling in Dresden, Berlin, Munich etc. So this research laid the ground for the conception of this exhibition,’ says Pettersson.

In putting together an exhibition on such a vast theme, the task facing the curators of presenting material that can be approached on many levels by a diverse audience, from the interested ‘general public’ to the artistic and academic community, was a complex one. ‘Inspiration – Contemporary Art & Classics’ achieves this in a number of ways: through mapping the key museums emerging in Europe in the 19th century, analysing their collections and the criteria for acquisitions, and tracing their influences on other museums, such as the Ateneum Art Museum itself; through pairing iconic art-historical works with contemporary artists’ reinterpretations of their themes; and through commissioning new works by contemporary artists to underline key ideas in the exhibition. An accompanying catalogue broadens out the contextual research, with essays by a range of international experts, and focus interviews spotlight specific contemporary artists in the show.

Featured image: Magnus Enckell, Angel (detail copy after Leonardo da Vinci’s painting Annunciation), 1895, oil on canvas, 100cm x 100cm. State Copy Collection, 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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Christian von Mechel, The Electoral Picture Gallery at Düsseldorf: Paintings on One of the Walls in the First Gallery, 1775, engraving, 21.3cm x 25.8cm Wellcome Library, London Photo: Wellcome Collection. CC BY 4.0

Page, Canvas, Wall: Visualising the History of Art

Michaela Giebelhausen, PhD, Course Leader, BA Culture, Criticism and Curation, Central St Martins, University of the Arts, London

Also published in Susanna Pettersson (ed.), Inspiration – Iconic Works. Ateneum Publications Vol. 132. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, 2020, 31–45

In 1909, the Italian poet and founder of the Futurist movement, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti famously declared, ‘[w]e will destroy the museums, libraries, academies of every kind’.[1] He compared museums to cemeteries, ‘[i]dentical, surely, in the sinister promiscuity of so many bodies unknown to one another… where one lies forever beside hated or unknown beings’. This comparison of the museum with the cemetery has often been cited as an indication of the Futurists’ radical rejection of traditional institutions. It certainly made these institutions look dead. With habitual hyperbole Marinetti claimed: ‘We stand on the last promontory of the centuries!… Why should we look back […]? Time and Space died yesterday.’ The brutal breathlessness of Futurist thinking rejected all notions of a history of art.

This essay considers how the history of art, embodied in art-historical canons, schools, periods, and aesthetic standards, has been conceptualised through writing, the organisation of collections, and the decoration of new museum buildings. It examines some of the moments in which the page, the canvas and the wall offer seminal and selective visualisations of the history of art and deploy notions of time and space that are complex and contradictory, and far from dead.

[1] Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. ‘Manifesto of Futurism’, in Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (eds.), Art in Theory: 1900–1990. Oxford UK and Cambridge US: Blackwell Publishers, 1992, 145–47.

Featured image: Christian von Mechel, The Electoral Picture Gallery at Düsseldorf: Paintings on One of the Walls in the First Gallery, 1775, engraving, 21.3cm x 25.8cm. Wellcome Library, London
Photo: Wellcome Collection. CC BY 4.0

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Leo von Klenze (1784–1864), View of the Walhalla Overlooking Donaustauf and Regensburg, 1830, watercolour and pencil on paper, 20.8cm x 29.2 cm Hamburger Kunsthalle Photo: © bpk / Hamburger Kunsthalle / Christoph Irrgang

1842 – The Art History of Handbooks and Anachronic Icons

Dan Karlholm, Professor of Art History, Södertörn University, Stockholm

Also published in Susanna Pettersson (ed.), Inspiration – Iconic Works. Ateneum Publications Vol. 132. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, 2020. Transl. Bettina Schultz, 87–96

On 18 October 1842 the Greek temple high above the Bavarian river bed was completed. Floating by on the Danube you can lift your gaze and see what looks like a sparkling white version of the Parthenon temple on the Acropolis in Athens. The aim of Ludwig I of Bavaria in having it built was to create a worthy space for the German spirit, founded on the German-speaking countries’ linguistic community in the wake of the humiliating war against France. Its architect Leo von Klenze (1784–1864), who also designed the Glyptothek and Alte Pinakothek in Munich, wanted to let the outer grandeur of this monument, this Walhalla outside Regensburg, mirror its inner, spiritual greatness[1] – Doric temple on the outside, the home of the Old Norse gods by name, and on the inside a memorial dedicated to German intellectuals. Initially, around 170 neoclassical marble busts lined the walls but the number has increased over time and continues to increase.[2] A monument, memorial, heathen temple, as well as a kind of deifying museum for dead white Germans. The reason why this ‘hall of fame’ was received with mixed feelings was probably above all aesthetic. Something felt wrong with this pastiche, even for many of those who believed that the Germanic spirit was based on the Greek. Its topicality can, however, be described as ‘historical’, which the painter Wilhelm von Kaulbach sometime later described as the only ‘contemporary’.[3] For the budding art historians, however, the monument was a challenge to the newly established explanatory model that proclaimed that art is a symbiosis between content and form, time and place, spirit and materiality.

[1] Leo von Klenze. Walhalla in artistischer und technischer Beziehung. München: Literarisch-artistische Anstalt, 1842.

[2] Adrian von Buttlar. Leo von Klenze: Leben – Werk – Vision. München: Beck, 1999, 140–64.

[3] See Dan Karlholm. Art of Illusion: The Representation of Art History in Nineteenth-Century Germany and Beyond. Bern: Peter Lang, 2004, chap. 4.

Featured image: Leo von Klenze, View of the Walhalla Overlooking Donaustauf and Regensburg, 1830, watercolour and pencil on paper, 20.8cm x 29.2cm.
Hamburger Kunsthalle
Photo: © bpk / Hamburger Kunsthalle / Christoph Irrgang

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Unknown artist, Dancers I–IV, oil on canvas Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Henri Tuomi and Hannu Pakarinen

Peer-Reviewed Article: Res(is)tance of Remains

Ari Tanhuanpää, PhD, Senior Conservator, Finnish National Gallery

On the reste that is not but which nonetheless remains

In this article, my aim is to approach the artwork’s being, taking as my starting point Jacques Derrida’s quasi-concept the reste (remains), and the neologism he derived from it, restance – especially as he discusses them in a number of his works. The essay consists of my reading of Derrida’s essay Athens, Still Remains (2010) (Demeure, Athènes, 2009)[1], which Derrida wrote to accompany the photographs Jean-François Bonhomme had taken in Athens. But, to start, let us take a look at a modest, unsigned painting lying in storage at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum: a tiny painting from a series of four, depicting a dancer. A great deal of its paint has fallen off, which gives it a certain charm. It is as if the dancer is dancing in the middle of the ruins – or is it, rather, that she remains motionless while the blanks around her dance? This is a strange pas de deux. One has the impression she is just about to disappear, any time now.[2] But the dancer seems to resist her total disappearance, just as the painting, even in its present, pitifully fragile and fragmentary state, as I claim, resists its complete downfall. I would like to suggest that both the dancer’s and the painting’s mode of being is not subsistence but rather restance – or, to use another word Derrida was fond of: demeurance/demourance (‘abidance’).[3] In its current condition, the painting could be described as a ruin – however, it must be emphasised that it is not a reste, as the reste is not, whereas the artwork as a physical artefact undeniably is.

[1] Jacques Derrida. Athens, Still Remains. Trans. Pascale-Anne Brault & Michael Naas. New York: Fordham University Press, 2010, originally published as Demeure, Athènes. Paris: Éditions Galilée, 2009 [1996]. Perhaps the most notable early occurrence of remain(s) in Derrida’s oeuvre is Glas – according to Charles Ramond, the ‘quasi-totality of Glas, from the first line, can be considered as a meditation on the remain(s)’. Derrida begins this book with a quote from Jean Genet: ‘what remained of a Rembrandt torn into small, very regular squares and rammed down the shithole.’ Jacques Derrida. Glas. Trans. John P. Leavey & Richard Rand. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1986 [1974], 1; Charles Ramond. Dictionnaire Derrida. Paris: Ellipses Édition, 2016, 200.

[2] Georges Didi-Huberman has referred to somewhat similar phenomena using the term aperçue (a feminine past participle of aperçevoir, French for ‘to perceive’), see Georges Didi-Huberman. Aperçues. Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 2018.

[3] Generally, le reste has been translated into English as ‘remains’, ‘remainder’, ‘remnant’, or ‘residue’, sometimes also as ‘rest’. Restance, in turn, has been translated as ‘remainder’, ‘remaindering’, or ‘remaining’. Derrida once said that he ‘cannot say whether or not remainder, by itself, adequately translates restance, but it matters little since no single word, out of context, can by itself ever translate another word perfectly’. Jacques Derrida. ‘Limited Inc a b c’. Trans. Samuel Weber, in Limited Inc. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1988 [1977], 52; Jacques Derrida. Given Time: I. Counterfeit Money. Trans. Peggy Kamuf. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1992 [1991]. For Derrida on translation as a whole, see his ‘Des Tours de Babel’. Trans. Josef F. Graham, in Difference in Translation. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1985, 165–207.

Featured image: Unknown artist, Dancers I–IV, oil on canvas, 19cm x 13cm.
Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Henri Tuomi and Hannu Pakarinen

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Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

Editorial: Living in the Material World

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

 

25 March 2020

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ahti Lavonen, Untitled, 1961, oil on canvas, 54cm x 65.5cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

A Sense of Materiality, Simplification and Ascetic Minimalism

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

Also published in Anne-Maria Pennonen and Hanne Selkokari (eds.), Silent Beauty – Nordic and East Asian Interaction. Ateneum Publications Vol. 117. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Transl. Don McCracken

Western art and the applied arts underwent great changes in the early decades of the 20th century. The post-First World War period was characterised by idealism, from culture to politics and the economy. Efforts were made to break established norms, find new means of expression and test the boundaries of art. In art this change manifested in abstract art, while in the applied-arts field there was a rejection of traditional ornamental styles, and a simplification of shapes and materials. The aim was to create a democratic world, and the material environment played a central role in this endeavour.

In the spirit of the age, the art field idealised machines and mass production and strove to combine spirituality with social idealism. At the same time, various avant-garde movements connected with Modernism began to take over. Conversely, the opposite values were also highlighted in the applied arts, where the goal was to get rid of mass production. Already in the late 19th century, encouraged by William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement, artists and craftsmen were urged to integrate their work with that of artisans, returning to their immediate connection to their material. The importance of hand-made objects and the use of natural materials were also emphasised.

Following international trends, Finnish artists began to use new methods in the spirit of Modernism. The truth-to-life academic style of painting and using materials was abandoned in favour of simplification and a sense of materiality, which were all emphasised in both the visual and applied arts. Eastern artists and aesthetics played a significant role in this development. This article discusses how the materiality and asceticism of Finnish artists’ paintings can be viewed alongside ceramics and textile art. How does a sense of materiality, and on the other hand minimalism, appear in these works? Which methods have been used, which features have been emphasised, and how does this trend relate to oriental aesthetics?

Featured image: Ahti Lavonen, Untitled, 1961, oil on canvas, 54cm x 65.5cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

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Anitra Lucander, Stony Moor, 1957, oil on canvas, 41.5cm × 54.5cm Ester and Jalo Sihtola Fine Arts Foundation Donation, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

A Changing Landscape

Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, PhD, Chief Curator, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum

Also published in Anne-Maria Pennonen and Hanne Selkokari (eds.), Silent Beauty – Nordic and East Asian Interaction. Ateneum Publications Vol. 117. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Transl. Don McCracken

Many of the most significant transformations in European art between the 1870s and the First World War occurred in the field of landscape painting. Although landscape painting as a genre was initially a relatively small part of the visual arts field, it offered opportunities for improvisation and self-expression, and a deeper relationship with nature as an artist, writer or traveller. Landscapes were associated with poetry, purification and heightened emotional states. Many artists eschewed the materialistic view of an industrialising Europe, and instead sought an understanding of landscape painting and a deployment of colour within it that would evoke parallels with more intangible forms of expression, such as music and spiritual life. In the era of Symbolist art in the 1890s, an image of the world based on sensory perception encountered an image fuelled by the imagination. New styles and compositions replaced the objectivity of plein air landscapes; there was no differentiation between the way the foreground and background was treated, and the traditional concept of perspective was broken.[1]

Nordic artists’ ways of portraying the landscape changed radically at the end of the 19th century. One of the major reasons for this was a growing familiarity with Japanese and Chinese art and its visual culture.[2] Characteristics of Japonisme began to appear in Nordic landscape art from the late 1870s. From an international perspective, this was already the second wave. Nordic artists’ perception of the landscape expanded and focused on new kinds of subject matter. Gabriel P. Weisberg summarised the new visual features of European art when he said that they came from Japanese imagery that featured numerous references to Mount Fuji, rugged beach cliffs, dense lines of trees and the rhythmic formation of waves.[3]

[1] Richard Thomson. ‘In to the Mystic’, in Frances Fowle (ed.), Van Gogh to Kandinsky. Symbolist Landscape in Europe 1880–1910. Brussels: National Galleries of Scotland, Van Gogh Museum, Ateneum Art Museum & Mercatorfonds, 2012, (151−77), 151; Rodolphe Rapetti. ‘Introduction. Landscapes and Symbols’, in Frances Fowle (ed.), Van Gogh to Kandinsky. Symbolist Landscape in Europe 1880–1910. Brussels: National Galleries of Scotland, Van Gogh Museum, Ateneum Art Museum & Mercatorfonds, 2012, (15−38), 15.

[2] Europeans did not necessarily distinguish between Japanese and Chinese ceramics and art. Gabriel P. Weisberg. ‘Rethinking Japonisme: The Popularization of a Taste’, in Gabriel P. Weisberg et al. (eds.), The Orient Expressed: Japan’s Influence on Western Art, 1854–1918. Jackson: Mississippi Museum of Art, 2011, (17−75), 17−19, 33; Anna Tuovinen [Kortelainen]. ‘Japanismia à la française’, in Anna Tuovinen (ed.), Japanismi Suomen vuosisadan vaihteen taiteessa. Turun taidemuseon julkaisuja 2/94. Turku: Turun taidemuseo, 1994, (6−21), 10−12.

[3] For new visual tropes in Japanese art, see Gabriel P. Weisberg. ‘The Japonisme Phenomenon’, in Gabriel Weisberg, Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff & Hanne Selkokari (eds.), Japanomania in the Nordic Countries 1875−1918. Helsinki: Ateneum Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery & Mercatorfonds, 2016, (14−37), 27−31.

Featured image: Anitra Lucander, Stony Moor, 1957, oil on canvas, 41.5cm × 54.5cm
Ester and Jalo Sihtola Fine Arts Foundation Donation, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

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Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Mt. Donia Sabuk, 1909, oil on wood, 14cm x 18 cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

Akseli Gallen-Kallela: Travels through his Colour Palette

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

Materials research is a vital part of maintaining up-to date information on artworks in museum collections. Gill Crabbe meets FNG assistant researcher Hanne Tikkala, who is compiling a comprehensive database of the pigments used in Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s paintings

As one of the largest repositories of works by the Finnish visionary artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865–1931), the Finnish National Gallery is continuously looking to refine and update its technical and art-historical understanding of the artist and his oeuvre, including knowledge of the materials he used. With some of his finest paintings fetching six-figure sums on the international art market, this continuing research is an essential part of maintaining the most up-to-date information on the artist, especially as it is often the FNG that collectors and museums approach to provide authentication of works in their possession. Since Gallen-Kallela – an iconic figure in Finnish art of the ‘Golden Age’ – was prey to forgers even during his own lifetime, research into the artist’s materials becomes even more important. Moreover, such data is also of indispensable help in solving conservation and restoration-related questions and problems. It also contributes to an increasing understanding of the techniques the artist evolved during his career, as well as providing corroborative evidence for art historians in their research.

Since 2017, FNG’s Senior Conservation Scientist Seppo Hornytzkyj and his colleague Hanne Tikkala, assistant researcher in the FNG’s materials research laboratory, have been conducting an extensive analysis of the pigments Gallen-Kallela used, selecting works spanning his entire career, from 1880 until 1929. The research has been partly funded by the Finnish Cultural Foundation, which has awarded Tikkala three year-long grants to cover her salary to undertake this research work for her PhD under the auspices of the University of Jyväskylä.

Featured image: Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Mt. Donia Sabuk, 1909, oil on wood, 14cm x 18cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen
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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Editorial: ‘When Museums Are Open Again, the Crisis Is Over’

Leevi Haapala, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma

 

27 March 2020

 

Less than two weeks ago, the Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin gave a memorable press conference in which she highlighted the exceptional situation in the country due to the coronavirus epidemic. Government officials started to draft the implementation of the exceptional law to protect the most vulnerable parts of the population. One consequence is to limit large audience gatherings and to keep cultural institutions, museums and concert halls closed to avoid spreading the virus. In the FNG’s management team we could not expect it to happen that soon. We had already prepared new and safe instructions on museum etiquette for our audiences, and even stopped using devices such as touch screens and headsets to avoid direct contact among our audiences. Still, one of our key tasks is to keep museums’ doors open to serve our audiences. Now that our doors have been closed we are facing a different reality from that of two weeks ago, and asking our staff for ideas, as well as feedback from our visitors on what we should do and how we can best serve our audiences now.

During the past ten days our organisation has finally taken the famous digital leap also on an everyday level, not only as one of the institution’s strategic goals. Last week’s word was cancelling, and this weeks’ word is reorganising. Remote work from home requires all the technical support to keep digitally functioning, which is vital for keeping spirits high, teams together and projects running. Online meetings via Teams and Skype meetings, the intranet’s project work spaces, and WhatsApp groups are already in use alongside more conventional platforms like Intra news and email. Also a surprise, old-fashioned phone calls are back in our toolkit!

In the current edition of FNG Research we cover different subject matters and research interests, national, transnational and global, linked to the future of our collections. One of the key articles, by Gill Crabbe, is dedicated to the European Revivals research project initiated by the Finnish National Gallery in 2009, which aimed to examine the phenomena surrounding European national revivals from a more wide-scale international perspective. Its concluding conference, ‘Art, Life and Place: Looking at European Transnational Exchange in the Long 19th century’ earlier this year at the Ateneum Art Museum, as well as its five previous international conferences, scores of published papers and affiliated exhibitions, have broadened the scope of European revivals substantially. ‘The issue of cultural revivals, whether national, universal or local, is far more wide-reaching, multidimensional and complex than we could possibly have imagined at the beginning of this journey’, state the Director of Collections Management Dr Riitta Ojanperä and Chief Curator of the Ateneum Art Museum Dr Anna-Maria von Bondsdorff, who were both initiators of the research project.

Another text, which relates to the revival research project, is the introductory lecture by Anne-Maria Pennonen to her recent doctoral thesis In Search of Scientific and Artistic Landscape Düsseldorf Landscape Painting and Reflections of the Natural Sciences as Seen in the Artworks of Finnish, Norwegian and German Artists, which was examined in February 2020 at Helsinki University. Pennonen’s key analysis in her thesis is to explore the intellectual and mental changes in the historio-social and temporal context taking place in Finnish landscape painting in the second half of the 19th century, and ‘how the general awareness of ideas concerning nature and developments related to the history of nature changed’. Landscape in art is not only linked to landscape painting, but it is also an aesthetic category, and post-nationalistic discourse, which will be revisited in the future.

Today we are witnessing unexpected drastic changes globally in our societies. While writing this I should have been finishing my speech for the opening ceremony of the ‘Mad Love’ exhibition, curated from Seppo Fränti’s large art collection, but now the show awaits post-crisis rescheduling. Fränti’s collection is his life’s work and he donated it to the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma / Finnish National Gallery two years ago. Obviously, this ‘opening of the decade’ had to be cancelled due to the current situation and limitations on large public gatherings. In this FNG Research edition we publish two articles that deepen our understanding of the 650 works in the donated collection.

In the first article Kiasma Collections Chief Curator Dr Kati Kivinen and Curator Dr Saara Hacklin, who together curated ‘Mad Love’, analyse the significance of the collection and describe the collection handling and management processes that were key elements in the acceptance of this large-scale donation. For nearly four decades, Fränti has been collecting mostly Finnish visual arts and especially paintings by talented young artists of the period. The statistics of the collection reveal its structure: ‘While the Fränti Collection complements the museum’s collection, it also alters it. The donation comprises works by 90 artists, of whom more than 50 are new to the museum. It also adds weight to the proportion of Finnish paintings from the 2010s in the museum’s collection.’ The Fränti Collection has come under the institution’s protective wing and is promoted to be a part of a public collection and a shared cultural heritage looked after by professionals.

In the second article on the Fränti Collection art historian Dr Juha-Heikki Tihinen brilliantly analyses the emotional contents that are activated through collecting and attempts to understand the psychological dimensions of the collector living in a labyrinth-like open art repository. Tihinen asks: ‘How should one approach a very eclectic collection?’ While museums often seem to seek coherence and comprehensive representations of certain time periods, private collectors are allowed to focus on specific artists or phenomena in art. As Tihinen points out, the Fränti Collection ‘is more of a passionate verbalisation of the opportunities and boundlessness of art’, reflecting the collector’s mental landscape within the field of contemporary art. Tihinen’s art-historical perspective takes in some iconic collectors and museum quality collections, and examines the ideals and behavioural patterns behind collecting, opening up wider understanding of the meaning of collectors for the art world. Tihinen also leaves us with an image of Seppo Fränti as an enthusiastic art lover and as a storyteller through his active and passionate role as a collector among two generations of artists in Finland.

Our task in the museums is to ask ourselves, what kind of narratives we create from this current time of epidemic crisis and its prevailing dystopic mindscape. We should ask ourselves, how do we write relevant histories in a time of crisis, and what are the lessons we should learn? Those forthcoming stories should be multiple, linked to other stories, individual narratives from all around the world, not only given official truths or nationalistic narratives. I would see our artists from local and global communities being very perceptive at this point. And the multidisciplinary results will be seen sooner than we think on different platforms, most likely first on online digital platforms, and later on in museums and galleries, when we are ready to reopen and to meet again face to face.

P.S. The title of this editorial is taken from a column by Anna-Stina Nykänen in 26 March edition of Helsingin Sanomat, entitled ‘Why the closing of the museums made me cry?’ The current epidemic reminds the author of the writings after the Second World War, when the opening of the museums was seen as a real sign of peace.

Featured image: Kiasma suljettu / stängt / closed. March 2020
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen