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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Call for Research Interns 2018

Finnish National Gallery
Call for Research Interns 2018

The Finnish National Gallery wishes to raise new interest in research topics based on its resources and collections. It also wishes to be an active and innovative partner in collaborating with the academic scene in reinforcing humanistic values and the importance of understanding the world and human culture by creating new, meaningful and relevant knowledge.

For this purpose the Finnish National Gallery has launched a research internship programme for art or cultural history students (preferably master’s-level) internationally to work with us as research interns.

The programme has two aims. The Finnish National Gallery wishes to enhance the study of its collections including art works, archives, and objects. At the same time we wish to support students who choose to write their master’s level theses on subjects based on physical collections and objects, archive material and data.

In 2018 the Finnish National Gallery is prepared to receive three research interns.

The internship period is three months with the intern under contract to the Finnish National Gallery. The salary is equivalent to the salary of university trainees.

The intern chooses in advance the material from the Finnish National Gallery collections that he/she wishes to study, and agrees on studying it during the internship period. It is desirable that the material will form part of the intern’s thesis. The intern is required, during the period of their internship, to write a text in English, based on the material and the research done at the National Gallery. The text may be published in one of the sections of the FNG Research web magazine.

Each intern will have an in-house professional tutor at the Finnish National Gallery. The tutor and the intern will meet on average weekly.

The Finnish National Gallery is not responsible for the academic supervision of the intern’s master’s thesis. The role of the National Gallery is to support the intern’s skills in collections research practices.

Are you interested? If so, please send your application by e-mail to fngr@nationalgallery.fi or by post to FNG Research, Chief curator Hanna-Leena Paloposki, Kaivokatu 2, 00100 Helsinki, Finland.

Applications can be written in English, Finnish or Swedish.

The deadline for applications is 17 November, 2017 and the appointments will be announced by 15 December, 2017.

The interns are appointed by the FNG Research editorial board.

For more information about the application process and programme, please click on the link below:

How to apply for the research internship programme at the Finnish National Gallery for master’s-level art and cultural history students >>

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

Editorial: Art History and the Spirit of Inquiry

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

 

July 25 2017

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first touring exhibition organised by the Fine Arts Academy of Finland, ‘From Edelfelt to Sallinen – The Masterpieces of Finnish Art’, here shown mounted in Kajaani in 1951. Photographer: M. Hynninen. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery

High Quality Art for Wide Audiences – The Touring Exhibitions of the Fine Arts Academy of Finland

Tarja Hartman, MA, Museum Guard, Finnish National Gallery

The Fine Arts Academy of Finland Foundation was established in 1939 and took over from the Finnish Art Society the responsibility for running the two museums, the Ateneum Art Museum and the Sinebrychoff Art Museum. The Exhibition and Education Department was founded in the 1950s. This Department organised national touring exhibitions and took care of archiving, publishing and research operations. The touring exhibitions were organised to enable people across Finland to see high quality art.

The first exhibition started its tour in 1950 and the last one in 1990. During these years 85 exhibitions went on display. They ranged from paintings, sculptures and graphic arts, and covered old classics as well as contemporary art. In 1990 the Fine Arts Academy of Finland was placed under government administration as the Finnish National Gallery. In the new organisation the Exhibition and Education Department no longer existed. The touring exhibitions programme ended, and the Central Art Archives was to take care of the archive collections. In 2014 the Finnish National Gallery was reorganised into the public foundation that exists today.

The aim of this article is to map out the objectives that were set for the touring exhibitions of the Fine Arts Academy of Finland and to assess the means with which the objectives were reached and how well they performed. The article is based on my Master’s thesis that gives an overview how the effectiveness of the touring exhibitions can be evaluated.[1] At present the Finnish National Gallery aims to invest in the effectiveness of the exhibition and research activities, as well as extending its national and international networks. Developing and expanding touring exhibitions operations is part of that. My goal is to provide information about the important elements of the touring exhibitions of the Fine Arts Academy in order to provide background information for the touring exhibitions of today.

[1] Hartman, Tarja, 2017. Laadukasta taidetta laajalle yleisölle. Suomen taideakatemian säätiön kiertonäyttelytoiminnan vaikuttavuuden arviointia (High quality art for wide audiences. Effectiveness evaluation of the touring exhibitions of the Fine Arts Academy of Finland). Master’s thesis. The Degree Programme in Cultural Production and Landscape Studies, Cultural Heritage Studies, School of History, Culture and Arts Studies, University of Turku.

Featured image: The first touring exhibition organised by the Fine Arts Academy of Finland, ‘From Edelfelt to Sallinen – The Masterpieces of Finnish Art’, here shown mounted in Kajaani in 1951.
Photographer: M. Hynninen. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery

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First page of Helene Schjerfbeck’s letter to Martha Neiglick-Platonoff, Saltsjöbaden, Sweden 20 August 1944. Helene Schjerfbeck’s letters to Martha Neiglick-Platonoff. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

New Donation of Helene Schjerfbeck Letters to the Finnish National Gallery

Helena Hätönen, MA, Curator, Archives and Library, Finnish National Gallery

The Archive Collections of the Finnish National Gallery received an interesting addition to its collection of artists’ letters recently, when a private individual donated eight letters written by painter Helene (Elli) Schjerfbeck (1862–1946) that had been in the possession of the donor’s family. The letters relate to the last years of Schjerfbeck’s life, when she was in Sweden, from the summer of 1944 to the summer of 1945. Schjerfbeck was staying in Saltsjöbaden’s spa hotel where she still painted whenever her health permitted.

The recipient of the donated letters was her second cousin, artist Martha Neiglick-Platonoff (1889–1964). Schjerfbeck’s mother and Neiglick’s maternal grandmother were sisters. The War Censors had opened and examined half of the letters. The recipient’s Russian surname probably affected the matter. The censorship practice was obviously known to the author as well. The contents of the letters are summarised and restrained, and many things are alluded to rather than made explicit.

Martha Neiglick had studied, like Helene Schjerfbeck, at the Finnish Art Society’s Drawing School and later abroad. She had remained a widow following the death of her spouse, the Russian naval captain, Lieutenant Igor Platonoff (1887–1921). To Helene Schjerfbeck, Martha Platonoff was both a relative and an artist colleague.

The donated letters date from the time of the Continuation War’s intensification in the summer 1944, and it is because of this that Schjerfbeck had moved to a more secure residence in Sweden. Martha Platonoff was staying in the Finnish countryside to escape the Russian bombardments. Her only offspring, Lieutenant Stephan Platonoff (1917–44) – who was also a Master of Arts – had crashed at the Finnish front line in the Battle of Ihantala on the Karelian Isthmus at the end of June that year. The event is never mentioned in the letters, but it is made apparent through the themes of fear, mourning and loss contained in them.

The letters will be made available to researchers after they have received due conservation. One of the letters, written on 20 August 1944, is now published in digital format in FNG Research. To access it, click the link below.

Featured image: First page of Helene Schjerfbeck’s letter to Martha Neiglick-Platonoff, Saltsjöbaden, Sweden, 20 August 1944. Helene Schjerfbeck’s letters to Martha Neiglick-Platonoff. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

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