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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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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Featured image: Jorma Puranen, From the Series ‘Shadows, Reflections and All of That Kind’, 1997–2002, chromogenic colour print. Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

Care for the Image – Meaning, Sense, Materiality

Ari Tanhuanpää, PhD Candidate, Senior Conservator, Finnish National Gallery, Sinebrychoff Art Museum

This is a summary of the doctoral dissertation in art history defended at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland, on 10 June, 2017. Its theoretical starting point is a phenomenologically-based view of the being of the image, in which Georges Didi-Huberman´s work plays a central role. One of the central aims of this research is the critical assessment of prevailing premises in conservation-restoration and technical art history. This study attempts to show that physical art objects, instead of being puzzles to be solved, are paradoxical in nature. Edmund Husserl has shown that image consciousness requires a specific kind of intentionality, similarly, consciousness of the Materiality of the Image presupposes a consciousness of a materiality that is ontologically distinct to the Image.

The study begins with a discussion on the Heideggerian concept of ʿcareʾ (Sorge). For Martin Heidegger, care was the ontological mode of Dasein. It meant mindful lingering, Besinnung, on the beings which are ready-to-hand (zuhanden) and present-to-hand (vorhanden) and have a fundamental ontological significance. It meant care for the sense (Sinn) of Being. Georges Didi-Huberman also discusses the concept of ʿcareʾ. His concept (souci) denotes care for images and imagination, for meaningful, affective encounters with images, and involves solicitation that makes images oscillate. Images do not submit to being regarded as subsistent (vorhanden) intentional correlates of the constituting ego in the sense of Gegenstand. Instead, they become constellations comparable to cloud formations or gas eruptions, which are in a state of continuous, endless motion, pulling us towards their swaying motion. Such constellations can provide only negative certainty, certainty without an object, connaissance sans objet, in Jean-Luc Marion´s terms. The only certainty we are able to glean from an artwork belongs to the region of its beingness, to its physical artefactuality. However, that which makes an artwork has nothing ontic, nothing thinglike in it. With the term ʿImageʾ, I refer to a concept that does not fall within the sphere of traditional art-history discourse. It is my conviction that an image is never alone. Images are always contaminated by numerous other images from various eras. In the words of Jean-Luc Nancy, an image is singular plural. Yet it is all too often approached only in its impoverished form, in Marion´s terms as a poor (pauvre) phenomenon.

We can have knowledge only of objects, not of images. The sensuous manifoldness of images has been reduced to match our finite cognitive faculties. Here, I am not referring to images as signs or symbols as they are understood in iconography, iconology, visual culture studies, semiotics or Bildwissenschaft, and I will not try to give a definition of the concept of ʿimageʾ. Neither am I talking about popular imagery. The Image I am talking about is not a single entity – it is a relation, and it is for this reason that I have chosen to write it with a capital I. The capital initial also underlines the fact that the Image is ontologically distinct (le distinct). When the word ʿimageʾ is spoken, there is no way of knowing about the capital letter – any more than you can hear the distinction between différence or différance. Therefore, I must show this Image to you – just like Derrida had to write down his différance in order to make it known. Thus writing comes before speech – the material sign that is the original mimēsis before any representative function. The Image I am referring to does not represent anything – any thing – that precedes it. It does not represent anything exterior but performs its being of the Image by being an image, a relation.

Featured image: Jorma Puranen, chromogenic colour print from the series ‘Shadows, Reflections and All of That Kind’, 1997–2002, . Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

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Eila Hiltunen working on the Sibelius Monument, 1966. Photographer: Otso Pietinen. Eila Hiltunen Picture Archive. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery

Dissertation in Progress: A Topography of Art Research, including Eila Hiltunen’s Files at the Finnish National Gallery Archive Collections

Gloria  Lauterbach, PhD Student, Contemporary Art, Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Helsinki

A short chronology of my research

In my doctoral research I study large-scale metal sculptures and the way the material and the female sculptor’s body affect each other in the creative process. In order to understand this interrelationship – also expressible as material exchange in the field of New Materialism where I anchor this research – my case studies are two Finnish sculptors, Eila Hiltunen (1922–2003) and Laila Pullinen[1] (1933–2015) and the metal works they created in the period 1961–1969. As a visual artist I complement my study by hand-folding a large-scale copper relief to investigate the theoretical considerations of my dissertation topic in practice.

I started my research with a review of selected works and working methods of Hiltunen and Pullinen from a neo-materialistic viewpoint. I have alternated the study phases within the archive collections of the Finnish National Gallery with my training in the traditional crafts technique of the standing seam – a technique derived from traditional roof making – under the supervision of a professional smith and roof maker. The standing seam technique is the main technique that I use for creating the work of art within my doctoral study. In a last part of my study, I will compare and analyse the findings collected by creating the large-scale copper relief with the data collected from the case studies on one hand and my theoretical frameworks on the other hand.

[1] Laila Pullinen’s archive material is located in a private collection and is currently being studied for this dissertation.

Featured image: Eila Hiltunen working on the Sibelius Monument, 1966. Photographer: Otso Pietinen.
Eila Hiltunen Picture Archive. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery

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