Reija Meriläinen, Survivor, 2017, videogame Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Screen capture of the online artwork

Data Salvage – Preserving Software-based Artworks in the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma

Maija Grönqvist, MA student, University of Helsinki

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

How to preserve process, context, and instability? Software-based art requires a certain amount of institutional rethinking in terms of collecting and preservation. Museums, entrusted with the task of preserving and re-exhibiting their collected artworks even in the most distant future, are battling with a new set of problems related to software-based art. The underlying challenge is that the artworks – often manifested as everything but objects – are created on technologically evolving platforms. As a result, theoretical models and practical strategies linked to software-based artworks are inevitably bound to change.[1]

Preserving software-based artworks is challenging yet vital, as they not only represent the artists’ ideas and concepts, but also the technological possibilities and the complex communication landscape of our time.[2] Long before the official recognition of the digital revolution, artists were already experimenting with the novel possibilities of new media. The first wave of digital art was exhibited mainly at technology conferences or digital media festivals. Towards the end of the last century, however, new media art, the art form that used to be considered ‘peripheral to the mainstream art world’[3], became an established genre and finally a welcome addition to galleries and museums. This expansion occurred globally in the 1990s, following the unforeseen affordability and user-friendliness of projectors and personal computers.[4]

[1] Paul 2015, 87; Fino-Radin 2011, 6.

[2] LIMA 2016.

[3] Paul 2003, 7.

[4] Paul 2003, 7; London 2014, xviii; Lialina 2010, 38–39.

Featured image: Reija Meriläinen, Survivor, 2017, video game
Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Screen capture of the online artwork

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Nineteenth and 20thcentury plaster portraits from the Finnish National Gallery Collections displayed in the exhibition ‘I am not I – Famous and Forgotten Portraits’ at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Helsinki, in 2017 Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Riitta Ojanperä Issue No. 4/2018

Connecting Museum Collections with the Rest of the World

Interview by Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

As the Finnish National Gallery prepares to launch a new integrated website for its collections, artworks, objects and archival material, Gill Crabbe asks the key people behind the project about the implications for researchers and other users

The days when an art historian’s first port of call in accessing an art museum’s materials would be to walk through its doors and spend hours leafing through indexes, letters and artefacts, are fast disappearing. In today’s globalised, digitised world, the research community expects rapid accessibility, through interactive channels, both online and via social media. In fact one might even posit the question to the art research community, does an object exist if it is not available online? For institutions like art museums these issues present a huge challenge, simply because the vast volume of objects and related material they hold in their archives and collections means that a gargantuan effort is involved in transforming even a selected part of it into digital material.

The Finnish National Gallery’s recent release of more than 12,000 images of copyright-free artworks into the public domain as open-data has not only opened up the dissemination of its art collections internationally but also goes hand in hand with a much larger development of its entire collections management system that will see all of the collections – artworks, objects and archive collections – brought into a single database for the first time. This new updated database will feed into the FNG’s new collections online web pages to be launched next year. At present there are several ways to access various parts of the FNG collections and improving their online availability is a pivotal way to enhance research related to them.

Featured image: Artworks need metadata to support research into them. Nineteenth and 20th-century plaster portraits from the Finnish National Gallery Collections displayed in the exhibition ‘I am not I – Famous and Forgotten Portraits’ at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Helsinki, in 2017
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Riitta Ojanperä

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Magnus von Wright, Crack Willows on the Waterfront, from Samling af Etuder för Landskaps, Djur och Blomstertecknare, 1839–40, lithograph, 25cm x 32cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Tero Suvilammi

The von Wright Brothers as Lithographic Artists

Erkki Anttonen, PhD, Senior Researcher, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki

Also published in Erkki Anttonen & Anne-Maria Pennonen (eds.), The von Wright Brothers – Art, Science and Life. Ateneum Publications Vol. 99. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum 2017, 73–91. Transl. Wif Stenger

The beginning of the history of Finnish lithographic art can be traced back to an entry by artist Magnus von Wright (1805–1868) in his diary from 8 March 1827, where he discusses trying his hand at drawing on stone for the first time while in Stockholm: ‘For the first time I drew on stone. – It was a pencil drawing.’[1]

At the time, lithography was still a new and revolutionary technique. It spread rapidly in the early 19th century, being employed widely for graphic work that required mass production, such as advertising posters, labels, postcards, maps, scientific illustrations, information communication, and in printing. The technique was an instant success in fine art printmaking too. The method had been developed between 1796 and 1798 by Alois Senefelder (1771–1834), an actor and playwright who was born in Prague but who worked in the early years of his career in Bavaria, mostly in Munich.

Lithography is a planographic printing method in which a design is drawn on the smooth surface of a stone block with a greasy crayon, or a sharp pen, or by applying an oily ink wash. Because oil and water repel each other, areas drawn with a greasy medium accept an oil-based printing ink, while the bare, wet surface repels it. The heyday of lithography was the latter half of the 19th and early part of the 20th century. Lithographic print shops were established all over the world, largely by publishers. It was not until the Second World War that the faster and more efficient offset method put an end to the last of the lithographic print houses in Finland.[2]

[1] Wright, Magnus von, 1996, Dagbok 1824–1834. Eds. Anto Leikola, Juhani Lokki, Torsten Stjernberg & Johan Ulfvens. Skrifter utgivna av Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland, nr 600:1. Konstnärsbröderna von Wrights dagböcker 1. Helsingfors: Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland, 8 March 1827 (58). The first lithographs of Finland were published 1823–24, when 15 large landscape washes depicting views from southern Finland by Carl von Kügelgen (1772–1832), an artist working in Russia, were printed as lithographs and published by Peter Friedrich Helmersen in St. Petersburg.

[2] For more on the subject, see, e.g., Johannesson, Lena, 1978. Den massproducerade bilden. Ur bildindustrialismens historia. Stockholm: AWE/Geber, 18–24.

Featured image: Magnus von Wright, Crack Willows on the Waterfront, from Samling af Etuder för Landskaps, Djur och Blomstertecknare, 1839–40, lithograph, 25cm x 32cm
Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Tero Suvilammi

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Ferdinand von Wright to Elise Heintzie, Haminalahti on 225 Jan, no year. Collection of Artists’ Letters. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

Ferdinand von Wright, Letter-writer

Hanna-Leena Paloposki, PhD, Chief curator, Archive and Library Manager, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

Also published in Erkki Anttonen & Anne-Maria Pennonen (eds.), The von Wright Brothers – Art, Science and Life. Ateneum Publications Vol. 99. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum 2017, 159–65. Transl. Wif Stenger

The Finnish National Gallery’s archive collections include correspondence and other documents from artists Magnus, Wilhelm and Ferdinand von Wright. They are part of the collection of artists’ letters that is made up of artists’ documents both bought for and donated to the Finnish Art Society. The first batch of the brothers’ letters was acquired for the collections in 1890–91.

In this article I focus on letters written by the youngest of the brothers, Ferdinand (1822–1906), of which there are 104 in the collection. They provide a background to his art and help contemporary readers to approach him as both an artist and as a person. For von Wright, who lived far from the Finnish capital, letter-writing was the most important method of maintaining contacts. Letters have always been important source materials for historians. The chronological distance from the writing of the texts imposes an interpretational challenge, but, on the other hand, letters are generally written in order to overcome and withstand chronological and geographical gaps.[1] Source material is almost always a random selection, as not all documents are generally preserved.[2]

[1] Hyttinen, Elsi & Kivilaakso, Katri, 2010. Johdanto. Lukemattomat sivut. Kirjallisuuden arkistot käytössä. Eds. Elsa Hyttinen ja Katri Kivilaakso. Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seuran Toimituksia 930. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 9.

[2] Researchers choose details of correspondence that are relevant to their own fields, leaving behind information that is irrelevant to their research and which no-one may ever make use of, or which may remain uninterpreted because of inadequate information. An example of this kind of irrelevant detail is that Ferdinand von Wright did not care for women wearing hairstyles with fringes, considering them a form of vanity. This was revealed when B. O. Schauman sent him photographs of well-known women, including an image of the internationally-successful Finnish opera singer Alma Fohrström (fan photos of the day). See Ferdinand von Wright to B. O. Schauman, Haminalahti 19 May 1887 and 14 June 1887. Collection of artists’ letters. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery (= CAL, FNG). Why did Schauman send these pictures? Was it two elderly bachelors sharing their distant admiration for women?

Featured image: A letter from Ferdinand von Wright to Elise Heintzie, Haminalahti, dated 25 January, year not given, page 1. Collection of Artists’ Letters. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

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Ferdinand von Wright, An Eagle Owl Seizes a Hare, 1860 oil on canvas, 105cm x 119cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Eagle Owls on the Hunt – Technical Analysis of Two Paintings by Ferdinand von Wright

Kirsi Hiltunen, Katariina Johde, Hanne Mannerheimo and Seppo Hornytzkyj
Finnish National Gallery conservation and material research team, Helsinki

Also published in Erkki Anttonen & Anne-Maria Pennonen (eds.), The von Wright Brothers – Art, Science and Life. Ateneum Publications Vol. 99. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum 2017, 149–56. Transl. Wif Stenger

Rarely does one have the chance to study two almost identical paintings. Ferdinand von Wright’s pair of paintings An Eagle Owl Seizes a Hare (Finnish National Gallery, inventory No. A I 58) and Eagle Owl Attacking a Hare (Lahti Art Museum, inventory No. LTM D 45) offer an opportunity to compare the works using technical analysis of the materials. Both works were painted in 1860. We know that the work belonging to the Finnish National Gallery (FNG) was bought directly from the artist for the Finnish Art Society collection in 1864. Lahti Art Museum’s painting originally passed from a private owner to the Viipuri-säätiö (Vyborg Foundation) and then on to the Lahti Art Museum. We also know that one of the paintings was taken to Germany, apparently with the aim of selling it, soon after its completion.[1]

The pictures are like those in a children’s puzzle where the viewer has to spot 10 mistakes. Close inspection reveals minor differences: a missing blade of grass, or grass bent in different ways, or some variation in the form of the rocky outcrop. The FNG’s eagle owl painting is slightly larger, with a more spacious feeling. The painting style in the Lahti work has more sharp contrasts, and rougher details. Was it a draft for the FNG’s painting or a later repetition? Was it painted more quickly? Why were two such similar works painted? Is it possible to use technical art-historical methods to obtain more information about the sequence in which they were painted?

[1] Magnus von Wright’s journal entry 16 June 1860: ‘B. A. Thunberg and family undertook their trip abroad tonight. – Took with them Ferdinand’s eagle owl and hare.’ Wright, Magnus von, 2001. Dagbok 1850–1862. Eds. Anto Leikola, Juhani Lokki, Torsten Stjernberg & Johan Ulfvens. Skrifter utgivna av Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland, nr 600:4. Konstnärsbröderna von Wrights dagböcker 4. Helsingfors: Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland, 16 June 1860 (401). It is assumed that Thunberg took one eagle owl work to Germany, but it is unclear which one. Information from Jukka Ervamaa, 9 Dec. 2016.

Featured image: Ferdinand von Wright, An Eagle Owl Seizes a Hare, 1860, oil on canvas, 105cm x 119cm
Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

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Louis Lagrenée the Elder, Pygmalion and His Statue, 1777, oil on canvas, 104cm x 86cm Antell Collections, Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Antti Kuivalainen

A Show of Emotion

Interview by Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

As the Sinebrychoff Art Museum prepares to stage an exhibition on painting and the theatre, Gill Crabbe meets the show’s curator Laura Gutman, to discuss the research she carried out in order to bring this topic to life

Meeting the independent curator Laura Gutman is like meeting a detective. As curator of several shows in Finland, where she moved from Paris 17 years ago, including the recent acclaimed ‘Air de Paris’ exhibition at Helsinki Art Museum (HAM), she has used her research skills and background studying art history under Guy Cogeval at the Ecole du Louvre in Paris in the 1990s to impressive effect in Finland. Not only has she been making intriguing connections between Finnish artists and their European counterparts, but also deepening understanding of European artworks in Finnish collections. It is a busy year for Gutman as she is now in the final stages of preparing a show on theatre and painting from the 17th to early 20th centuries titled ‘Moved to Tears: Staging Emotions’ at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum in Helsinki.

The museum is an appropriate setting for such a subject as it is the house of the collector Paul Sinebrychoff, whose wife Fanny Grahn was herself an actress, and their rooms on the first floor are laid out almost as a series of theatrical sets, each reflecting a period from his collection. The theme of the Sinebrychoff exhibition which is held in the galleries on the ground floor, is also a subject close to Gutman’s heart, since at the Ecole du Louvre she studied the theoretical and philosophical background to painting and theatre ‘from David to Degas’. After having attended a performance in Helsinki with Finnish singer Minna Nyberg, she has developed a particular interest in the use of Baroque gesture in the fine arts.

Featured image: Louis Lagrenée the Elder, Pygmalion and his Statue, 1777, oil on canvas, 104cm x 86cm, Antell Collections, Finnish National Gallery, Sinebrychoff Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Antti Kuivalainen

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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‘Moved to Tears: Staging Emotions’, Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Helsinki, 13 September 2018 – 3 March 2019

Unknown Dutch Artist, Portrait of a Family, mid-17th century onwards, oil on canvas, 157cm x 208cm Gösta and Bertha Stenman Donation Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen & Henri Tuomi

Old Masters Meet Russian Revolutions

Kersti Tainio, MA, PhD Student, University of Helsinki

Old Master paintings in the Sinebrychoff Art Museum that came from Russia to Finland as a consequence of the Russian Revolutions are the subject of Kersti Tainio’s research undertaken during her recent internship at the Finnish National Gallery

Foreword

The political turmoil in Russia has unexpectedly given us a chance to rescue some of the treasures threatened with being swept away by the whirlwind of the revolution, but again, the opportunity has not been fully exploited. Some works of art have ended up here through private initiative but there have been no systematic purchases, although the owners of celebrated art collections would have sold their old Flemish and Italian works rather than see them being smashed or plundered by the Russian utopians. Now many of these works have gone to England and America.[1]

 This is what the art dealer Gösta Stenman wrote in 1919 after he had brought dozens of Old Master paintings from revolutionary Russia to Finland. In this article I shed light on the period of time between the two Russian revolutions in 1917 when there were a few Finnish people actively buying art in the chaotic capital of Russia. I will show, case by case, how this extraordinary situation affected the art collection of the Sinebrychoff Art Museum.

Provenance research is an important part of museum practice, as it may clarify or confirm attributions and dating, or even reveal the original commissioner of an artwork or help to identify a portrayed person. The subject I studied during my internship has not been systematically researched, although there are informative museum catalogues, one of which actually raised my interest in the first place.[2] Provenance research is most typically carried out in connection with forthcoming exhibitions, and that was the case with the painting Young woman with a glass of wine, holding a letter in her hand, by Gerard ter Borch. The former Chief Curator of the Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Marja Supinen, made an effort in the 1990s to tease out its convoluted provenance. The painting found its way to the museum collection in the early 1920s, when a Russian citizen brought it to Helsinki from Petrograd[3] and sold it to the museum. The painting had ended up in St. Petersburg in the aftermath of the French Revolution when Prince Alexander Bezborodko (1746–99) purchased it in 1795. Over 100 years later, the painting left Petrograd, ironically enough, as a consequence of the Russian Revolution.[4]

[1] ’De politiska omvälvningarna i Ryssland ha plötsligt skänkt oss en möjlighet att rädda en del av de skatter stormfloden hotat att sopa bort, men även nu har tillfället icke utnytjats. Visserligen har en del verk på privat initiativ funnit vägen till oss, men ett planmässigt förvärv har icke ägt rum. Och dock ha ägarna till berömda samlingar, hällre än de sett sina gamla holländare och italienare förstöras eller rövas av de ryska världsförbättrarna, – försålt sina skatter. En stor del av dessa verk har gått till England och Amerika.’ Gammal konst. Stenmans konstsalongs publikationer II. Helsingfors: Frenckellska Tryckeri-Aktiebolaget, 1919. My translation.

[2] Supinen, Marja. The Ter Borchs Meet Again. Helsinki: The Museum of Foreign Art Sinebrychoff. The Finnish National Gallery, 1995; Supinen, Marja. The Fine Arts Academy of Finland, Sinebrychoff Art Museum: Foreign Schools: Summary Catalogue 1: Paintings. Helsinki: Suomen taideakatemia, 1988; Keltanen, Minerva, ed. Art & Atmosphere. Helsinki: Sinebrychoff Art Museum, 2014.

[3] St. Petersburg became Petrograd in 1914 when, following the declaration of war between Germany and Russia, the former name was considered to be too German. In 1924 Petrograd was again renamed, remaining as Leningrad until 1991.

[4] Supinen 1995, 34–35, 43.

Featured image: Unknown Dutch artist, Portrait of a Family, mid-17th century onwards, oil on canvas, 157cm x 208cm, Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen & Henri Tuomi

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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