Featured image: Helene Schjerfbeck, Cypresses, Fiesole, 1894, oil on canvas, 43.5cm x 62.5cm, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Beyond Borders

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

The Helene Schjerfbeck exhibitions in London and Helsinki are a result of extensive international collaboration between the researchers, curators and the two institutions involved. Chief Curator of the Ateneum Art Museum Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff discusses the research processes, preparations and the themes that emerged for the two shows with Gill Crabbe

In 2018, when the Chief Curator of the Ateneum Art Museum Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff travelled to the UK to undertake new research in preparation for the Helene Schjerfbeck exhibition at London’s Royal Academy of Arts, she was keen to visit St Ives in Cornwall, as Schjerfbeck had done in the 1880s. Among other things von Bonsdorff hoped to find out whether any of the works known to have been sold in England, but whose whereabouts were currently unknown, might come to light.

‘This is the period in Schjerfbeck’s career that we don’t know so much about,’ she explains, ‘so it was a great opportunity to collaborate with the Royal Academy’s curator, Desiree de Chair, and really get to know more about the artist’s time in St Ives.’ Von Bonsdorff in fact spent two months in the UK alongside her counterparts at the RA, as part of her research for the exhibition, which has now travelled back to Finland to be presented in an expanded version at the Ateneum Art Museum. She was enabled by an innovative and generous professional development scheme in which the Finnish National Gallery provides opportunities for staff to work for an extended period in a museum or cultural institution abroad. ‘London is a very international scene, so for us it was important to be able to show Helene Schjerfbeck there – and like Jeremy Lewison, who curated the show with us, said, the RA is a perfect place to show Schjerfbeck.’

Von Bonsdorff travelled to Cornwall with Desiree de Chair, who was researching for the essay on the St Ives period for the catalogue. ‘I wanted to find out more about the times when Schjerfbeck was travelling and building her career,’ says von Bonsdorff. ‘We were there in March, at the same time of year that Schjerfbeck was there, to see the places where she was living, drawing and painting. St Ives has this extraordinary luminous light, steep streets and very particular air and atmosphere.’ While there, von Bonsdorff was struck by the primroses in bloom, as Schjerfbeck had used the flower as a motif in The Girl from St Ives (Redhead), from 1890. It is the only painting that the artist signed as being from St Ives, although at least 12 of her known paintings come from her time spent there.

Featured image: Helene Schjerfbeck, Cypresses, Fiesole, 1894, oil on canvas, 43.5cm x 62.5cm, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

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Helene Schjerfbeck, Self-Portrait with Palette I, 1937, tempera and oil on canvas, 44.5cm x 33.5cm Moderna Museet, Statens konstmuseer, Stockholm Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

Helene Schjerfbeck – only an Image?

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

As the Helene Schjerfbeck exhibition opens at the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki, Gill Crabbe discusses the artists self-portraiture with contemporary art curator Patrik Nyberg and art historian Marja Lahelma 

Patrik, you are a curator at the Finnish National Gallerys Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma and you have just published your doctoral thesis on Helene Schjerfbecks self-portraits. How did you become interested in Schjerfbeck?

Patrik Nyberg I have always been interested in art that seems to critique or subvert its own representation, be it in a video, or any contemporary art, or painting from the modernist era or earlier, so I wanted to look at Helene Schjerfbeck’s self-portraits in this light.

Where would you place Helene Schjerfbecks self-portraits in the modernist canon?

PN Well, that’s a question I’m thinking about in my thesis – what is the modernist canon and what kind of painting is defined as modernist painting? I think Schjerfbeck’s self-portraits go beyond the parameters of how modernism is defined by its defenders, such as Clive Bell, Roger Fry and the Greenbergian tradition. These works also question the way that, in the postmodern era, we tend to define painting in the modernist era as self-sustained autonomous art and in favour of an autonomous subject. I think Helene Schjerfbeck’s self-portraits go beyond that idea and are more contemporary in a way.

Marja, you were the opponent for the public defence of Patrik’s doctoral thesis. You have seen the recent Helene Schjerfbeck exhibition at the Royal Academy in London, in which the self-portraits were given a central focus by presenting them chronologically in the room at the heart of the gallery space. What did you make of that kind of presentation – do you think this shows that the self-portraits are the most important of her works?

Marja Lahelma I thought it was quite powerful to walk into that room and as I had already read Patrik’s thesis I was aware of the fact that, although these self-portraits were presented as a chronological sequence, they didn’t really produce a narrative, which I liked. Apart from the early self-portraits, you couldn’t really see a progression that starts from likeness and representation, then going towards abstraction – it doesn’t really work that way with her.

So how did it work?

ML They are all such different kinds of works. In his thesis, Patrik discusses the performative aspect of these works and that became very clear to me in that room. It appeared almost as some kind of a game. I had the impression that Schjerfbeck was really conscious of what she was doing, that there was nothing accidental. I was also aware that these works don’t really say anything about who she was – for example that they reveal the soul – in fact there was nothing of that kind there, it was all about surface. I really liked that.

Featured image: Helene Schjerfbeck, Self-Portrait with Palette I, 1937, tempera and oil on canvas, 44.5cm x 33.5cm
Moderna Museet, Statens konstmuseer, Stockholm
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

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The sculpture room at the Ateneum Art Museum, in 1959. The photograph includes a painting by Ilya Repin and sculptures by Marino Marini, Giacomo Manzù, Ben Renvall, Carl Wilhelms, Felix Nylund, and Wäinö Aaltonen. Photographer unknown. Negative collection. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery

Revisiting the Collection Display at the Ateneum Art Museum in 1959

Mariliis Rebane, MA student, University of Helsinki

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

When the 1952 Olympic Games were organised in Helsinki, the city’s cultural institutions were also preparing themselves for a large number of visitors. The Ateneum Art Museum repainted some of its exhibition galleries, extended its opening hours, hired more staff and ordered new uniforms for the guards. However, the most significant changes were to do with the arrangement of the collection display.[1] Only a few months earlier, on 21 January 1952, Dr Aune Lindström (1901–84) had been appointed temporary Chief Curator – the position equivalent to the museum director’s post – after her predecessor Torsten Stjernschantz had retired.[2] The changes that Lindström initiated in the collection display before the Olympic Games were implemented in full during the following years. The updated display was eventually documented seven years later. The period 1952–59 consequently forms the timeframe of this article.

When looking at the 12 black-and-white photographs[3] by an unknown photographer documenting the Ateneum Art Museum in 1959, I was prompted to revisit the collection display carried out by Lindström. In this article I provide a descriptive overview of the display based on the mentioned images. I also outline the Chief Curator’s initial aspirations in changing the arrangement of the collection. By looking at the images, I aim to reveal whether Lindström’s ambitions were in accord with the eventual collection display. Using the photographic documentation as a source also sets this article apart from the previous studies on the history of the Ateneum Art Museum’s collection display.

[1] Minutes of the Foundation of the Fine Arts Academy of Finland 8 February 1952 § 7, 16 September 1952 § 7. Minutes of the Board and the Representative Council 1952, Minutes of the Board and the Representative Council and School Division Grant Board 1952–1953 (STA / C 11). Archive of the Fine Arts Academy of Finland (AFAAF), Finnish National Gallery (FNG); ‘Ateneumin Taidekokoelmat vuonna 1952’, in Suomen Taideakatemian vuosijulkaisu 1951–1953 (Helsinki: Keskuskirjapaino, 1954), 66; ‘Ateneum valmistautuu olympialaisiin – huomattavia muutoksia kokoelmissa’, Helsingin Sanomat, 21 June 1952; ‘Ateneum olympiakunnossa’, Suomen Sosiaalidemokraatti, 8 July 1952.

[2] Aune Lindström (1901–84) started work at the Ateneum Art Museum in 1928 when she was hired as a part-time Curator to organise the library, archive, and later also the prints and drawings. Aside from being the Curator, Lindström had taught German and English since 1926 and wrote reviews and art introductions for the Press. Lindström  wrote her dissertation on the von Wright brothers, in 1932. Olli Valkonen, ‘Ateneumin taidemuseon intendentit 1869–1990’, in Tuula Arkio and Marjatta Levanto (eds.), Ateneum (Helsinki: Valtion taidemuseo, 1991), 72; Hanna-Leena Paloposki, ‘Lindström, Aune (1901–1984) Ateneumin taidemuseon intendentti, professori’, Kansallisbiografia, published 11 October 2005 (updated July 25, 2016), https://kansallisbiografia.fi/kansallisbiografia/henkilo/1375 (accessed 5 October 2019).

[3] The images belong to Finnish National Gallery’s Picture Collections.

Featured image: The sculpture room at the Ateneum Art Museum, in 1959. The photograph includes a painting by Ilya Repin and sculptures by Marino Marini, Giacomo Manzù, Ben Renvall, Carl Wilhelms, Felix Nylund, and Wäinö Aaltonen. Photographer unknown.
Negative Collection. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery

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Susanne Gottberg: Object, 2013–14, oil and colour pencil on wood, 122cm x 86cm. Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

‘All the Leaves in the World’: the Subjectile as a Problem

Ari Tanhuanpää, PhD, Senior Conservator, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

This is an extended version of the paper presented at the Tahiti 8: National Conference of Art History in Finland, which this year took the theme ‘From Material to Immaterial: Art Historical Practices in the Contemporary World’. University of Turku, 28–29 November 2019

Rather than addressing the problem of the dematerialisation of the artwork (which is misplaced because there is only a difference in degree between material and immaterial), I would like to draw attention to a more fundamental problem, namely the ontological difference between matter and materiality. The claim that it is only the ephemeral processes of contemporary art that challenge the established practices in art-historical research gives the impression that questions of materiality in the more traditional art forms could already be adequately answered. It seems that one has had to wait for the (alleged) dematerialisation of the artwork in order to be able to see materiality as a problem – because the more the matter dematerialises, the more the being of materiality (which is neither material nor immaterial, but rather not- or im-material) comes into view. I take the ‘paper’ that Jacques Derrida saw throughout its long history as being made up of its gradual ‘de-paperisation’ as my starting point. In Paper machine (2001)[1], a text written in apocalyptic tone, at the time when the era of paper was in ongoing decline and withdrawal, Derrida discusses paper as a quasi-transcendental apparatus, expanding his perspective to include ‘all the leaves in the world’ (toutes les feuilles du monde), that is, subjectiles of all kinds, things that in one way or another ‘lie below’: hypokeimena.[2] Because, even in our present era of ‘dematerialisation’, we continue to live in the graphosphere, which implies dealing with all kinds of underlying surfaces, actual or virtual.[3]

Two years ago, Päivikki Kallio edited the anthology entitled Art of Transfer and Transmission (2017), which was dedicated to the study, in her words, of ‘printmaking as a conceptual practice, independent of the material means’. The authors of this publication shared a view that printmaking as an activity has the ability to generate ‘new and potentially conceptual thinking’, and that this ability is located in the ‘break or an abyss’ that lies at the core of the act of printing itself. This abyss is the machine, the indeterminate ‘zone’ between the printing plate (or ‘matrix’, as Kallio wants to call it[4] – a sort of maternal subjectile[5]) and the print (or ‘trace’). This ‘apparatus of the printed art’ is a Latourian ‘collective process’, which brings together a number of actants, human, as well as inhuman.[6] Susanne Gottberg, in turn, has for many years created paintings in which the wood grain patterns of the unprimed plywood, used as a painting support, reflects through a painted drapery. Isn’t the strange feeling these paintings creates in us also the result of an abyss – or conflict – between the intentional image object and the physical image carrier? I will come back to this later.

[1] Originally, Papier machine (Paris: Éditions Galilée, 2001).

[2] Derrida poses a question: ‘When we say “paper” (…) are we naming the empirical body that bears this conventional name? Are we already resorting to a rhetorical figure? Or are we by the same token designating this “quasi-transcendental paper” (…).’ Jacques Derrida, Paper Machine. Trans. Rachel Bowlby (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2005 [2001]), 52; Jacques Derrida, ‘Maddening the Subjectile’. Trans. Mary Ann Caws. Yale French Studies, 84, 1994, (154–171), 157–58, 169. The subjectile, the untranslatable French notion presumably first used by Antonin Artaud, does not refer to any determinate substance, or object of knowing. In fact, as Derrida reminds us, even Artaud did ‘not speak about the subjectile as such, only of what “is called” by this name’. The subjectile is ‘the unique body of the work in its first event, at its moment of birth, which cannot be repeated’. Furthermore, the subjectile is not reliable, it can betray, ‘not come when it is called, or call before even being called, before even receiving its name’. The subjectile is always ‘to come’ (à-venir), and ‘oscillates between the intransitivity of jacere and the transitivity of jacere’. Anyway, we can list some features of subjectiles, they are ‘everything distinct from form, as well as from the sense and representation, which is not representable’. There are various materials which can be called by this notion (i.e. they are not subjectiles as such, but one can refer to them by using this name: wall and wood surfaces, paper and textiles. Derrida writes that among subjectiles there are two classes: the ones that ‘let them be traversed (we call them porous, like plasters, mortar, wood, cardboard, textiles, paper) and the others (metals or their alloys) which permit no passage’.

[3] Derrida claims that even today, ‘the page continues, in many ways (…) to govern a large number of surfaces of inscription, even where the body of paper is no longer there in person (…). Even when we write on the computer, it is still with a view to the final printing paper, whether or not this takes place.’ Derrida 2005 [2001], 46.

[4] Kallio specifies, that ‘(a) matrix can be considered the conceptual turning point, a moment when the transmission or translation takes place’. Päivikki Kallio, ‘New Strategies – Printmaking as a Spatial Process, as a Transmissional Process, and as a Spatial-Transmissional Process’. In Jan Pettersson (ed.), Printmaking in the Expanded Field (Oslo: Oslo National Academy of the Arts, 2017), (87–105), 88.

[5] Because, as Derrida reminds us, the subjectile ‘can take the place of the subject or of the object – being neither one nor the other’. Derrida 1994, (154–171), 154.

[6] Inhuman actants are, for instance ‘presses, corrosives, plates, printing inks, tarlatans, stones, [and] rolls’. Kallio 2017, (87–105), 87; Päivikki Kallio, ‘Välissä ja vyöhykkeellä’. In Päivikki Kallio (ed.), Siirtämisen ja välittymisen taide (Helsinki: Kuvataideakatemia, 2017), (17–63), 18, 28, 43; Milla Toukkari, ‘Kuilun filosofia’. In Päivikki Kallio (ed.), Siirtämisen ja välittymisen taide (Helsinki: Kuvataideakatemia, 2017), (103–157), 107. Kallio believes that ‘by using the concept of the matrix it is possible to study works that do not use any paper to make the trace visible’. However, even if there is no paper in the printmaking of the expanded field, there is still always some kind of subjectile, no matter what name one gives it.

Featured image: Susanne Gottberg: Object, 2013–14, oil and colour pencil on wood, 122cm x 86cm. Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

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Gunnar Heydenreich examines Cranach´s Portrait of a Young Woman. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Conservation Unit, Ari Tanhuanpää

Helsinki’s Cranach Beauties

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

As the Sinebrychoff Art Museum prepared to mount a major exhibition on Lucas Cranach the Elder, Gill Crabbe met Professor Gunnar Heydenreich, head of the Cranach Digital Archive, who was in Helsinki to make an up-to-date assessment of the museum’s two Cranach paintings

Lucas Cranach the Elder, the 16th-century artist who gained success as court painter to Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, was a man in the right place at the right time. Not only was the artist in the employ of a pioneer of Lutheranism when it was igniting a religious revolution that poured itself into Northern European art and culture; he was also a shrewd businessman with a well trained staff of painting assistants and other craftsmen in one of the most successful workshops of the Reformation. Cranach the entrepreneur profited hugely from a time of transition.

Cranach became court artist and moved to Wittenberg in 1505, setting up a workshop in Wittenberg castle; he then expanded his activities, moving to his own premises in the city around 1511-12. Cranach the Elder and his sons were so successful that more than 1.700 paintings from their workshop are known to be extant almost 500 years later, including altarpieces, court commissions, and private portrait commissions, as well as serial productions of popular themes. The Sinebrychoff Art Museum’s two particular treasures – Lucretia (1530) and Portrait of a Young Woman (1525) – were the starting point for conceiving the exhibition ‘Lucas Cranach – Renaissance Beauties’, and as is often the case, mounting the show provided an opportunity to publish up-to-date research for the exhibition catalogue.

Research on the two Cranach paintings carried out by the Conservation Unit of the Finnish National Gallery in the 1980s and 90s was quite extensive and used groundbreaking new techniques for its time. However, in the past year, as part of its preparation for show, the conservation unit started a new research project which involved examining the paintings, taking new images (including IR and X-ray images) and making non-destructive pigment analyses. The museum was then delighted when Professor Gunnar Heydenreich – who is head of the Cranach Digital Archive and widely considered to be the leading expert on Cranach’s workshop – agreed to make a fresh assessment of the two works in its collection. While the provenance of each of the works does not stretch as far back as its origins, Portrait of a Young Woman has been in the Finnish Art Society collection since 1851 and Lucretia had been in a private collection since the 1790s before the Sinebrychoff Art Museum acquired it in 1994.

Featured image: Gunnar Heydenreich examines Cranach’s Portrait of a Young Woman.
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Conservation Unit, Ari Tanhuanpää

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Installation view of the ‘Helene Schjerfbeck’ exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 20 July – 27 October, 2019 Photo: David Parry

Showing Schjerfbeck in London

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

The major survey exhibition of Helene Schjerfbeck at London’s Royal Academy of Arts, which travels to Helsinki in November, marks an important collaboration with the Ateneum Art Museum and has put Finland’s national treasure firmly on the wider European cultural map. Gill Crabbe met Jeremy Lewison, the lead curator of the exhibition in London, to discuss the significance of Schjerfbeck’s work and how he conceived the show for the Academy’s new gallery space

How did you come across the work of Helene Schjerfbeck?

I first saw her work in an exhibition called ‘Identity and Alterity’, organised by Jean Claire, at the Venice Biennale in 1995, and there were five self-portraits in that show. I remember being struck not only by the power of these portraits but also their imaginative quality and they just seemed to be very different and shocking in many ways – not all of them were late self-portraits, they ranged across her career. I thought, here is an artist I’d like to find out more about. I did nothing until after I had set up on my own and in the Nordic region I came across her work in different places and saw a survey show in Gothenburg around 2009–10. However, at that show I didn’t really have any sense of the coherence of her work and I was not so impressed. But I kept thinking there must be another way of looking at the work, especially as the self-portraits were so powerful, so I began to do my own research. When I was working on the Alice Neel show in Helsinki I was given a copy of the catalogue of the ‘Helene Schjerfbeck: 150 years’ celebration exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum (2012) and it was at that point I thought I could put together an interesting exhibition. It took a while to raise a wider interest in the project in London. Then in 2016 I asked if the Ateneum Art Museum would support my effort to organise an exhibition in London. Susanna Pettersson, then Director of the museum, was enthusiastic and I suggested that the Royal Academy of Arts would be the right place.

Why did you suggest the RA?

The Academy mounts both large survey shows in its Main Galleries and mid-scale exhibitions in the Sackler Wing of Galleries and in its new space, the Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries. Since Helene Schjerfbeck had a strong relationship to Old Master painting – and so historically does the RA – I thought the Academy could be an interesting context in which to show her work. I put together a presentation for RA Artistic Director Tim Marlow, curator Sarah Lea and exhibitions producer Andrea Tarsia and they were enthusiastic. That was in 2017. Then it had to go to the RA’s Exhibitions Committee – comprising mainly Royal Academicians – and they approved it. .

Featured image: Installation view of the ‘Helene Schjerfbeck’ exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 20 July – 27 October, 2019
Photo: David Parry

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Helene Schjerfbeck, ­ Self-Portrait, 1912, oil on canvas, 43.5cm x 42cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

Artist Ian McKeever on the Raw Power of Helene Schjerfbeck’s Self-portraits

Ian McKeever, painter and Royal Academician

First published in the Summer 2019 issue of RA Magazine to coincide with the presentation of the ‘Helene Schjerfbeck’ exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London (until 27 October 2019)

‘For I have always found it impossible to resemble myself from one day to the next.’
– Philippe Ricord

‘…I never go around mirrors… it tears me up to see a grown man cry,’ he sang to himself, as he looked into the mirror. The face staring back at him, presumably to others always the same face, was to him barely known. He never could figure out whose skin he was in; for sure it was not his. But then he would not recognise his own skin were it ever to wrap itself around him. How did others deal with this, he wondered? Did they too feel this discomfort, a rub which never eased? Never spoken about, lived with; or was he one of just a few who had what felt like a body on loan. A body he did not fully trust. Committing to something he did not fully know or trust seemed reckless. So he withheld, as if only ever partially present in the world. A part of himself held back, unsure if he had the resilience to endure, survive total immersion. Most of the time he felt truly lost. Things around him, people even, polluted him. Turning him into mere flotsam and jetsam floating aimlessly, without meaning. Becoming just a part of the vague, directionless flow of life. Any meaning which might crystallize itself into something concrete, graspable, eluded him most of the time. So when in those odd moments it did materialise, he hung on to it as if his life depended on it. He turned away from the mirror, casting one last glance into those eyes.

It is 1975. I am in Helsinki. Participating in my first group exhibition abroad. It is an exhibition of SPACE artists, the London-based studio collective, at the Taidehalli, the city exhibition space run by the Finnish Artists’ Union. The city feels dour, grey, emerging as it was from being politically sandwiched between Sweden and the Soviets. Each of the visiting artists has been allocated a Finnish counterpart as minder-cum-guide. Mine is Timo, a painter photographer, who also writes, perhaps a couple of years younger than myself. We get on well. On one of the free days Timo takes me to the Ateneum Art Museum, which houses part of the Finnish national collection of paintings. It is my first introduction to the history of Finnish art. Difficult; I have no reference points. However, Timo is good, he knows his country’s painting tradition, and he helps me to ease my way in. Some works come easier than others; the large snowy landscape of Akseli Gallen-Kallela for instance, I can thread back to a broader context with relative ease. At one point we find ourselves in a gallery of smallish paintings, still-lifes, landscapes and portraits. It is the work of Helene Schjerfbeck, Timo enthuses. I am both curious and nonplussed. Unable to make head or tail of what I am looking at – why the fuss?

Over the following years Timo and I become good friends and I am in Finland fairly regularly. On such visits at some point I invariably find myself standing yet again in front of Helene Schjerfbeck’s paintings. They have become a Finnish marker for me. One of those things we use when travelling to tell us we have arrived, be it a croissant in Paris or the mounds of fresh mint in Marrakesh. Paintings too can anchor one from museum to museum, country to country. I have only to stand in front of Vilhelm Hammershøi’s small Portrait of a Young Woman in Funen Art Museum in Odense to know I am slap bang in the middle of Denmark and its culture. For me in Finland this has become Helene Schjerfbeck

Featured image: Helene Schjerfbeck, ­Self-Portrait, 1912, oil on canvas, 43.5cm x 42cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

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