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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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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Teemu Mäenpää, Aimless, 2013, ink and acrylic on canvas, 121cm x 105.4cm x 2.1cm The Seppo Fränti Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Kirsi Halkola

When a Passionate Collector Meets a Museum

Saara Hacklin, PhD, Curator and Kati Kivinen, PhD, Chief Curator, Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma

Also published in Saara Hacklin and Kati Kivinen (eds.), Hullu rakkaus / Galen kärlek / Mad Love. The Seppo Fränti Collection at Kiasma. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 170/2020. Helsinki: PARVS, 2020. Transl. Eva Malkki

The curators’ look at the Seppo Fränti Collection

In 2017, Christmas came early for Kiasma. The museum received an extraordinary donation from the Helsinki-based collector and art-lover Seppo Fränti. The donation was preceded by a long dialogue between the collector and the museum’s director Leevi Haapala, and the final seal was placed on the agreement just before Christmas.

For nearly four decades, Fränti has been collecting mostly Finnish visual artists. The main emphasis of his collection, which comprises around 650 works, is on Finnish paintings. As art historian Juha-Heikki Tihinen has said, ‘as a collector, Fränti is a patron who reacts quickly and relies on his gut feeling’.[1] Fränti wants to become friends with the people behind the artworks because, for him, collecting is a passion and a way of life. In recent years, this passion filled up his home.

Generally speaking, Fränti’s collection is a grand gift for the Finnish National Gallery; at the same time, it hides behind it a large amount of work. The museum dived into the project through the processes of transportation, examination, documentation, maintenance, conservation, and restoration. This article looks at the reception of the Fränti Collection at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. It considers how the character of this private collection might have altered when it became a part of a large public contemporary art collection, and describes the process that the works underwent on arrival and during exhibition planning.

[1] Tihinen, Juha-Heikki, 2016. Häpeämättömästi taiteen puolesta – Seppo Fräntin kokoelma. Helsinki: Lapinlahden Lähde project & Mental Health Finland, 9.

Featured image: Teemu Mäenpää, Aimless, 2013, ink and acrylic on canvas, 121cm x 105.4cm x 2.1cm, The Seppo Fränti Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Kirsi Halkola

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The interior of Seppo Fränti’s apartment, 23 February 2018 Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Moomin-like Joy and the Seppo Fränti Art Collection

Juha-Heikki Tihinen, PhD, Art Historian

Also published in Saara Hacklin and Kati Kivinen (eds.), Hullu rakkaus / Galen kärlek / Mad Love. The Seppo Fränti Collection at Kiasma. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 170/2020. Helsinki: PARVS, 2020. Transl. Eva Malkki

‘Suddenly he felt so happy that he had to be alone. He strolled off towards the woodshed. And when nobody could see him any longer he broke into a run. He ran through the melting snow, with the sun warming his back. He ran simply because he was happy, with nothing at all to think about.’[1]

Art collections and the act of collecting often bear a significant emotional content, for with the collection the collector builds their own little cosmos, through which they can express intense feelings. In 2016, the art collector Seppo Fränti described the emotions he felt in his home when surrounded in every direction by art: ‘It is wonderful; I am like the Moomintroll, imbibing a Moomin-like atmosphere. I love to be surrounded by all this. Sometimes I might shriek a bit like Little My if I feel like it.’[2] This quote can best be understood by looking at pictures of Fränti’s home when it had been taken over by art and one could only move along narrow corridors between artworks. The collector’s home was literally covered in art, which took up every surface. The apartment was somewhat reminiscent of the Merzbau, a sculptural structure by German artist Kurt Schwitters (1887–1948) that filled five of the eight rooms in the artist’s home in Hannover and grew organically as Schwitters picked up objects and materials around the city to add to the installation. Seppo Fränti’s collection started off as pictures hung on walls but later grew organically to fill the whole space.

Fränti’s collection is fascinating because it presents a compilation of the art he has chosen according to his preferences and that he experienced as being significant. The collection donated to Kiasma comprises some 650 works[3], the earliest of which Fränti acquired at the end of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s.[4] The collection is not intended as an all-encompassing historical portrayal of the art of the period; instead, it is an experiential interpretation of some of the phenomena in contemporary art. The central aspects of the Fränti Collection are a fascination with contemporary art and the collector’s personal relationship with almost all of the artists. The Seppo Fränti Collection is not homogeneous; in fact, it is startlingly heterogeneous and it is not always easy for an outsider to follow the collector’s logic.

[1] Jansson, Tove, 1988. Taikatalvi. Translated into Finnish by Laila Järvinen. Helsinki: WSOY, 132. Excerpt in English from Moominland Midwinter, transl. Thomas Warburton.

[2] Tihinen, Juha-Heikki, 2016. Häpeämättömästi taiteen puolesta – Seppo Fräntin kokoelma. Helsinki: The Lapinlahden Lähde Project & Mental Health Finland, 20.

[3] The collection’s growth rate has been startling, as at the time of the first exhibition in Lapinlahden Lähde in 2016, the collection as a whole comprised around 500 works.

[4] Tihinen, Häpeämättömästi taiteen puolesta, 11.

Featured image: The interior of Seppo Fränti’s apartment, 23 February 2018
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

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Hugo Simberg, Fantasy, 1896, watercolour and gold on paper, 16cm x 15cm, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

European Revivals in 2020 and beyond

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

Following the recent concluding conference of the Finnish National Gallery’s European Revivals research project, Gill Crabbe asks its keynote speakers, art historians Professor Murdo Macdonald and Professor Patricia Berman, to assess the impact of the ten-year initiative as they look to the future

In 2009, when the Finnish National Gallery initiated its European Revivals research project the main aim was to examine the phenomena surrounding European national revivals from a more wide-scale international perspective. This included looking for parallel processes and similarities in the cultural constructions of nationhood within the European region, at a time when national art-historical discourses had emphasised a specific local uniqueness of each cultural revivalist narrative. As one of the prime movers in the Project, Director of Collections Management at the FNG Riitta Ojanperä, pointed out: ‘We didn’t want to name the project “National Revivals” but rather “European Revivals” to emphasise the transnational aspect.’ The FNG thus set out to generate a series of international conferences organised by both themselves and by institutions in other countries, that would bring together both museum and academic scholarship, fostering and broadening international networks, stimulating and publishing new research, inspiring affiliated exhibitions, and encouraging a reassessment of existing art-historical narratives.

Ten years on, and six international conferences, scores of published papers and a number of exhibitions later, the scope of European revivals has evolved substantially, as could be seen in the wide-ranging presentations at the concluding conference organised by the Finnish National Gallery in January 2020 at the Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki. During this period, the cultural revivalist discourse in art and art history has been re-examined and recontextualised, so that even the concept of a Golden Age in the long 19th century has come under scrutiny. As Patricia Berman, Theodora L. and Stanley H. Feldberg Professor of Art, Wellesley College, Massachussetts, noted in her keynote speech at the conference: ‘The idea of a Golden Age is always equivocal. When pictured in paint, it’s a perfect past in the midst of a tense present. That perfect past, in European Golden Ages was almost always an ethnic discourse, erasing or marginalising certain populations. What we increasingly and collectively see is how profoundly shaped by stereotypes our discipline has been and how to shape the tools to defuse and move beyond them.’

Indeed, in the collection of peer-reviewed papers by those who had contributed over the years which was published by the FNG to coincide with the 2020 conference, Riitta Ojanperä and Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, Chief Curator at the Ateneum Art Museum, who were both initiators of the project, wrote: ‘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.’ It is a journey that has centred around a series of conferences that has taken those involved on a round trip from Helsinki to Oslo, Krakow, Edinburgh and back to Helsinki, with institutions from these cities hosting them in an impressive example of international collaboration. Themes ranged from ‘Myths, Legends and Dreams of a Nation’ (2009) to ‘Artists’ Colonies and Nature’ (2015), ‘Aesthetic Values in the National Context’ (2014), ‘Modern Identities’ (2012) and ‘Cultural Mythologies around 1900’ (2017).

Featured image: Hugo Simberg, Fantasy, 1896, watercolour and gold on paper, 16cm x 15cm, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen
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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Hjalmar Munsterhjelm, Brook (a copy after Johann Wilhelm Schirmer’s Parthie an der Düsselmit Pestwurz), undated, 48.5cm x 55.5cm. Gösta and Bertha Stenman Donation, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Kirsi Halkola

Lectio Praecursoria: In Search of Scientific and Artistic Landscape

An Introductory Lecture at the Public Examination of Anne-Maria Pennonen’s Dissertation, 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, University of Helsinki, 21 February 2020  

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

Opponent Prof Bettina Gockel, University of Zürich, Custos Prof Ville Lukkarinen, University of Helsinki

Landscape painting is a rather new phenomenon in Finland. Apart from a few examples from preceding centuries, it started to develop properly only in the course of the 19th century. In its early stage, landscape graphics and illustrated travelogues played an important role. Moreover, Düsseldorf had a great influence on how artists’ interests – and later the public interest – were directed towards landscape painting.

In Finland and Sweden, the public gaze was focused on Düsseldorf as a result of the ‘Nordic Art Exhibition’, which took place at the Royal Academy in Stockholm in 1850. The exhibition presented works by artists who had studied or were working in Düsseldorf, and it was the landscapes by the Norwegian artists, Hans Gude and August Cappelen, that attracted the most attention. Inspired by the exhibition, Werner Holmberg became the first prominent Finnish artist to travel to Düsseldorf to study landscape painting, in the summer of 1853. Victoria Åberg, Magnus von Wright and Fanny Churberg were among others who travelled to Düsseldorf following Holmberg’s lead.

As for the role of the Art Academy in Düsseldorf, it was actually the work of individual artists and their activities outside the Kunstakademie that built up the city’s reputation in landscape painting. One of these was Johann Wilhelm Schirmer, who is regarded as the founder and pioneer of the landscape painting of the Düsseldorf School. At the beginning of his career, Schirmer was nominated to teach the landscape painting class in 1830, and later he continued as a professor. In Düsseldorf, Schirmer had a great impact on the activities outside the Kunstakademie, and he introduced a new approach to landscape, according to which it was essential to look at the landscape in a ‘proper fashion’, and expressions like ‘the new naturalism’ and ‘the truth of nature’ were widely used. As a part of Schirmer’s teaching practice, it was essential to study landscape in the open air, and accordingly compose sketches and studies from nature – only from nature. Schirmer’s ideas and teachings were conveyed to Finnish and Norwegian artists by the Norwegian artist Hans Gude.

Featured image: Hjalmar Munsterhjelm, Brook (a copy after Johann Wilhelm Schirmer’s Parthie an der Düsselmit Pestwurz), undated, 48.5cm x 55.5cm, Gösta and Bertha Stenman Donation, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Kirsi Halkola
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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