Gill Crabbe, FNG Research
For the exhibition ‘Colour & Light – The Legacy of Impressionism’, now showing at the Ateneum Art Museum, the curators invited renowned authority on Impressionism Professor Anthea Callen to be senior advisor on the project. Gill Crabbe asks her about what she brought to the role
It is a bold museum that chooses to stage an exhibition that places celebrated works from history’s most popular art movement alongside those by artists who, albeit stars in their home country, might be considered obscure or even unknown internationally. But in mounting the exhibition ‘Colour & Light – The Legacy of Impressionism’ the Finnish National Gallery’s Ateneum Art Museum has created an opportunity for an important conversation between the Western European proponents of Impressionism and Neoimpressionism and the Finnish artists of the early 20th century. Significantly, it is a conversation that revolves around the effects of transnationalism, as well as the hybrid fusions of style and technique that can result from international influences.
Indeed ‘Colour & Light’ mixes a dazzling palette of artworks across every room in its show. Replacing a tired chronological approach with rooms themed according to subject matter – the garden, wintertime, rural life, the sea, the nude, urban life – one is exposed more directly to the impact of new techniques and shifts in material culture across time and space. Thus one finds Monet’s wintery scene Floating Ice on the Seine (1880) alongside Finnish painter Pekka Halonen’s brilliant sunlit snowscapes (Rock Covered in Ice and Snow, 1911); the plein-air rural scenes of Henri-Edmond Cross’s Pine (1907), effulgent in high summer, together with Magnus Enckell’s pine trees painted on his summer sojourn on an island in the Gulf of Finland in From Suursaari (1910) and Ellen Thesleff’s Landscape from Tuscany (1908), palette-knifed in rich hues of violet and viridian green. And further on, we see Paul Signac’s eye-popping Neoimpressionist coastal idyll Antibes (undated), alongside Verner Thomé’s blinding contrejour painting Bathing Boys (1910).
The exhibition and accompanying scholarly publication are the result of an ambitious research project initiated by the Ateneum and aided by Professor Emeritus Anthea Callen, a world expert on Impressionism and the material culture of the period, who was invited to join the project as senior advisor. Prof Callen had been approached by Ateneum Chief Curator Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff through their mutual connection to the Association for Art History, where her presentations on vitalism and plein-air painting had attracted the Finnish curator’s attention. Callen is author of nine books, several of which reflect her expertise in Impressionism and also in material culture – she has a PhD in 19th-century artists’ materials and techniques in 19th-century France, from London’s Courtauld Institute. This, in turn has afforded her a key role in several episodes of the popular British TV series Fake or Fortune. Significantly, she is also a trained artist, which brings additional interdisciplinary knowledge and understanding. ‘Training as an artist does bring a different vision,’ she says. ‘You’re trying to tune into the mind of the artist. As a practitioner you recognise the ideas and how they are executed are inseparable.’
Featured image: Alfred William Finch, An August Night, 1898,
oil on canvas, 35cm x 45.5cm
Gift from Arvid Sourander, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen
Read more — Download ‘Lighting up Colour’, by Gill Crabbe, as a PDF