Albert Edelfelt, Self-Portrait in 17th-Century Costume, oil on canvas 1889, 64.5cm x 70.5 cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

Albert Edelfelt Goes on Tour

 Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

As the Ateneum Art Museum prepares to open its exhibition of Albert Edelfelt in 2023, Finland’s beloved 19th-century painter has already drawn huge crowds in Paris and the show has now travelled to Gothenburg. Gill Crabbe asked curators Anne-Maria Pennonen and Hanne Selkokari about the secrets of their successful international collaboration

When the onset of Covid-19 spiralled into a pandemic, one of the many consequences for museums was the havoc it played with exhibition programming. While plans had been carefully laid over several years, across the globe the museum world saw cancellations, postponements and rescheduling of major shows as its custodians struggled to work with the devastating impact of the pandemic. However, Anne-Maria Pennonen and Hanne Selkokari, curators at the Ateneum Art Museum, had already been forced to think outside of the box when they started planning for a major exhibition of one of Finland’s most beloved and greatest artists – Albert Edelfelt. Long before Covid-19 struck, they had been considering how to navigate the upcoming year-long closure of the Ateneum Art Museum for essential repairs. As it turned out, they found there were some advantages to doing things differently.

Now, as Finland awaits the opening in 2023 of the most comprehensive exhibition to date of an artist who is a national hero, Paris has been enjoying the glorious show ‘Albert Edelfelt: Lights of Finland’ at the Petit Palais, a venue built for the 1900 World Fair that Edelfelt himself was closely involved in. Not only that, but the exhibition has now travelled to Gothenburg Museum of Art, ahead of the Ateneum opening. In so doing the curators at the Finnish National Gallery have reversed the traditional sequence of opening their exhibition first on home territory and then touring it abroad.

There are advantages to scheduling a show internationally in this way, not least because new discoveries from research undertaken by other museums involved can open up fresh perspectives and stimulate further research for the Finnish iteration. For a proposal to gain traction with museums abroad, a theme that to some extent can be adapted to suit the location of an individual venue places it in a good position to be accepted. As Anne-Maria Pennonen, who is co-curating the Helsinki show, explains: ‘The idea for this show had already been mooted for several years. Then, when we learnt about the Ateneum building renovation, we thought it would be an ideal opportunity to let our classics travel. Of course, when you think of Edelfelt, then the show had to go to Paris, as he had such strong connections there and even lived there for many years. Our museum Director Marja Sakari had previously been Director of the Finnish Institute in the city and via her contacts a proposal was put together. We had decided that the key theme would be Edelfelt’s international contacts because this is something that is of interest to all parties and he himself was the first Finnish artist to build such an international network.’

Featured image: Albert Edelfelt, Self-Portrait in 17th-Century Costume, oil on canvas 1889, 64.5cm x 70.5cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen
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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Albert Edelfelt, The Luxembourg Gardens, Paris, 1887, oil on canvas, 141.5cm x 186.5cm Antell Collections, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

Albert Edelfelt – The Golden Boy of Finnish Art

Anne-Maria Pennonen, PhD, curator and Hanne Selkokari, PhD, curator, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum

Also published in French as ‘Albert Edelfelt, fils prodige de l’art finlandais’, in Anne-Charlotte Cathelineau (ed.), Albert Edelfelt. Lumières de Finlande. Paris: Paris Musées, 2022, p. 31–40, and in English in the Albert Edelfelt exhibition catalogue by the Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, in Spring 2023. Transl. Wif Stenger

A Finnish or French artist?

When Albert Edelfelt (1854–1905) went to Paris to study in 1874 as a young artist, there were high hopes for him – and indeed he lived up to those expectations. Early overviews of Finnish art have highlighted Edelfelt’s victories and success, but also the contradictions in his art. Edelfelt’s teacher, Adolf von Becker (1831–1909), firmly believed that Paris was the only place to learn to paint. Von Becker wanted to finally free Finnish art from a German ‘pleasantness and leash of contemplation’ and instead tie it to the great movements and trends of art.[1] Edelfelt followed his teacher’s advice after spending a year studying history painting in Antwerp (1873–74). He became a role model, helping to spread the teachings of the ‘French school’ among Finnish artists, according to the art historian Eliel Aspelin (1847–1917), who knew Edelfelt when he was young.[2]

According to Johannes Öhqvist (1861–1949), a versatile German-speaking cultural journalist, the French school had taught Edelfelt a cool, scientific matter-of-factness that sharpened his mind, enabling him to see reality more clearly.[3] At the same time, however, Edelfelt was seen as a paradoxical figure in his homeland, where there were doubts as to whether he was a portrayer of folk life or a salon painter. For Edelfelt, Paris was the centre of the art world. He was ready to help and support his compatriots who made their way to the city, serving as a skilful support for them and as a strong role model on the path towards naturalism and realism.[4]

However, the leaders of the Finnish art establishment found the French influence in the arts a constant source of irritation. On the one hand, they understood the value of Paris and the professionalism and ideas that it generated, but there was also a desire to create through them something genuine, a purely national art in Finland.[5]

In 1902, the younger generation of critics praised Edelfelt as versatile and acknowledged him as the best-known Finnish artist on the continent.[6] He was an artist ‘who has no national prejudices and whose perception and technique are cosmopolitan. […] a thoroughly sophisticated artist whose cultivation is both innate and acquired.’[7] According to the architect and critic Jac. Ahrenberg (1847–1914), though, Edelfelt represented Finnish art’s ‘Swedish element’ in line with ‘his race, blood, family background, upbringing and spirit’.[8]

[1] Johannes Öhqvist. Suomen taiteen historia. Helsinki: Kustannusosakeyhtiö Kirja, 1912, 330.

[2] Eliel Aspelin. Suomalaisen taiteen historia pääpiirteissään. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 1891, 81. In 1915, Aspelin published his Edelfelt memoirs I–V and his correspondence in his book Muoto- ja muistikuvia II (Helsinki: Otava).

[3] Öhqvist, Suomen taiteen historia, 348−49.

[4] Riitta Konttinen. Sammon takojat. Nuoren Suomen taiteilijat ja suomalaisuuden kuvat. Helsinki: Otava, 2001, 62−63, 65−67.

[5] Aspelin, Suomalaisen taiteen historia pääpiirteissään, 81−84; Öhqvist, Suomen taiteen historia.

[6] Gustaf Strengell. ‘Albert Edelfelt’, Euterpe 1902:1, (2−6) 2.

[7] Gustaf Strengell. ‘Albert Edelfelt: taiteilijariemujuhla’, Valvoja 1904:7−8, 417−41.

[8] Jac. Ahrenberg. ‘Edelfelts utställning’, Finsk Tidskrift 1902:1, 310−12; Öhqvist, Suomen taiteen historia, 330−35; Konttinen, Sammon takojat, 67.

Featured image: Albert Edelfelt, The Luxembourg Gardens, Paris, 1887, oil on canvas, 141.5cm x 186.5cm. Antell Collections, 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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Albert Edelfelt, Portrait of Louis Pasteur, study, 1885, oil on canvas, 61cm x 50.5cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Albert Edelfelt and French Art Criticism – The Most Parisian of Finns and the Most Finnish of Parisians

Anne-Charlotte Cathelineau, Chief Curator, Petit Palais Museum, Paris

Also published in French as ‘Albert Edelfelt et la critique d’art française’, in Anne-Charlotte Cathelineau (ed.), Albert Edelfelt. Lumières de Finlande. Paris: Paris Musées, 2022, p. 147–57, and in English in the Albert Edelfelt exhibition catalogue by the Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, in Spring 2023. Transl. Susan Pickford

In 1908 the Finnish exhibition at the Salon d’Automne saw French critics hail the pioneering role of Albert Edelfelt (1854–1905), who had died three years previously, in establishing and legitimising a Finnish school of art on the international stage:[1] ‘Today’s Finnish painters owe Edelfelt much – all – of their artistic emancipation. Edelfelt was a bridge between Finland and Europe at the right time, particularly between Finland and Paris. […] He allowed Finland, as his student Magnus Enckell put it, to “take its place in the grand art movement now sweeping the world”.’[2] This belated recognition of Edelfelt’s contribution was the result of an exemplary career that began in Paris in 1874, and was rooted in a carefully planned exhibition strategy.

‘Today’s light comes to us from the north’[3]

When Edelfelt arrived in Paris in the mid-1870s, he joined an ever growing number of foreign artists trying their luck in Europe’s biggest and brightest cultural hub.[4] It would take another decade, however, before art critics would begin to take a real interest in painters from the far north; when they did, it was as a result of a newfound taste for naturalist aesthetics and an increasing openness to foreign artists at the Fine Arts division of the French administration.[5] Reading the Press notices from the 1880s and 1890s, it is clear that critics were becoming more aware of a specific Nordic school and its main representatives.[6] Praise for foreign artists also played into an attempt to revitalise the French school, which many critics saw as in need of renewal.[7] A growing familiarity with foreign art is apparent from its increasing prominence at the Salon, both in terms of the sheer number of exhibitors and the type of spaces attributed to them.[8]

Late-19th-century critics defined Scandinavia as Norway, Sweden, Denmark – and Finland.[9] Art in the latter was still in a fledgling state, as K. Paijani acknowledged in an opinion piece in 1877, while still pointing out the young school’s dynamism: ‘Only for thirty years or so have we been producing home-grown art […]. Genre painters and landscapists are endlessly inspired by our nature and our national life.’[10] Edelfelt’s critical reception as one of a number of Scandinavian artists covered in reviews of salons and exhibitions follows this broad trend.

[1] On Edelfelt’s historiography, see Anne-Maria Pennonen and Hanne Selkokari. ‘Albert Edelfelt, fils prodige de l’art finlandais’, in Anne-Charlotte Cathelineau (ed.), Albert Edelfelt. Lumières de Finlande. Paris: Paris Musées, 2022, 31–40.

[2] Étienne Avenard. ‘L’exposition finlandaise au Salon d’automne’, Art et décoration, tome 24, Paris, 1908, 137–46.

[3] Paul Leroi. ’Salon de 1886’, L’Art, tome 40, Paris, 1886, 232–36, 242–53 and L’Art, tome 41, Paris, 1886, 30–40; Paul Leroi. ’Salon de 1887’, L’Art, tome 43, Paris, 1887, 25–42.

[4] Thérèse Burollet. ‘Cette France … où tout est possible’, in Lumières du Nord. La peinture scandinave. 18851915, exhibition catalogue. Paris: Association française d’action artistique, 1987; Riitta Ojanperä. ‘L’art finlandais et la France, 1870–1914’, in Échappées nordiques. Les maîtres scandinaves et finlandais en France. 18701914, exhibition catalogue. Lille: Palais des Beaux-Arts / Paris: Somogy éditions d’art, 2008; Vibeke Röstorp. Le Mythe du retour. Les artistes scandinaves en France de 1889 à 1908. Stockholm: University of Stockholm, 2013.

[5] Emily Braun. ‘Scandinavian painting and the French critics’, in Northern Light. Realism and Symbolism in Scandinavian Painting 18801910, exhibition catalogue. New York: The Brooklyn Museum, 1982; Laurent Cazes. L’Europe des arts. La participation des peintres étrangers au Salon: Paris, 18521900, doctoral thesis. Paris: Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, 2015; Tanguy Le Roux. ‘L’apparition de l’école du Nord. L’émergence des artistes scandinaves dans la critique d’art française dans les années 1880’, Deshima, no 12, Strasbourg, 2018, 155–70.

[6] Philippe Burty. ‘Le Salon de 1880. Les étrangers’, L’Art, tome 21, Paris, 1880, 295–307; André Michel. ‘Le Salon de 1884’, L’Art, tome 36, Paris, 1884, 201–13; Léonce Bénédite. ‘Salon de 1891. La peinture au salon des Champs-Élysées’, L’Art, tome 50, Paris, 1891, 234–39; Georges Lafenestre. ‘Les salons de 1892. I. La peinture aux Champs-Élysées’, Revue des deux mondes, tome 111, Paris, 1892, 607–37; Georges Lafenestre. ‘Les salons de 1893. II. La peinture au Champ-de-Mars et la sculpture dans les deux salons’, Revue des deux mondes, tome 118, Paris, 1893, 164–96; Georges Lafenestre. ‘La peinture aux salons de 1896’, Revue des deux mondes, tome 135, Paris, 1896, 897–933.

[7] Michel, ‘Le Salon de 1884’; Paul Leroi. ‘Salon de 1886’, L’Art, tome 40, Paris, 1886, 232–36, 242–53; Georges Lafenestre. ‘La peinture étrangère à l’Exposition universelle’, Revue des deux mondes, tome 96, Paris, 1889, 139–72.

[8] Paul Leroi. ‘Salon de 1888. La peinture’, L’Art, tome 44, Paris, 1888, 173–208.; Bénédite, ‘Salon de 1891. La peinture au salon des Champs-Élysées’.

[9] Finland had been part of the kingdom of Sweden since the 13th century and became a Grand Duchy under Russian domination in 1809.

[10] K. Paijani. ‘Les beaux-arts en Finlande’, L’Art, tome 8, Paris, 1877, 230–33.

Featured image: Albert Edelfelt, Portrait of Louis Pasteur, study, 1885, oil on canvas, 61cm x 50.5cm. 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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Albert Edelfelt, Michael and Xenia, Children of Tsar Alexander III, 1881–82, watercolour on paper, 29.4cm x 22.8cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

Albert Edelfelt and His International Network

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

This presentation was given at the Albert Edelfelt Seminar organised at the Petit Palais, Paris, on 20 May 2022, in connection with the Albert Edelfelt exhibition

Introduction

Among the Finnish artists of the late 19th century, Albert Edelfelt (1854–1905) was a true cosmopolitan. He was the first of the Finnish artists to settle down in Paris for a longer time – he lived in Paris from 1874 to 1891, and continued to keep his studio there until his death in 1905. Edelfelt travelled a lot during these years, not only to Finland for the summer, but also to southern France, Italy, Spain, Russia, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Germany and England. Being well-connected with people from different social backgrounds, he understood the importance of networks. His wide social network consisted not only of artists, but also actors, composers, opera singers, writers, industrialists and businessmen, politicians, and scientists, as well as members of imperial and royal families.

To operate in such an international network required language skills, and we can say that Edelfelt was a true polyglot. At school in Finland, he had learnt Greek and Latin as part of his training; Swedish was his mother tongue, he knew some Finnish, but French became his second language. In addition, he spoke German, English, Spanish, as well as Italian and some Russian.

Although Edelfelt was sometimes quite a controversial character and made critical comments about the different people he had met, he was, nonetheless, socially talented, outgoing and capable of building a wide network. This is quite evident if we compare him with his good friend and colleague Gunnar Berndtson, who came from a similar background, but was shy and more introverted.

This presentation is based mainly on Edelfelt’s letters to his mother Alexandra in the years 1873–1901. In these letters, Edelfelt described his life and travels abroad. Edelfelt was a diligent writer, and sometimes his letters are quite critical, but they can also be hilarious. In addition to the great number of letters, he contributed articles about art and reviews on exhibitions to newspapers, and made illustrations, too.

Featured image: Albert Edelfelt, Michael and Xenia, Children of Tsar Alexander III, 1881–82, watercolour on paper, 29.4cm x 22.8cm. 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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Jules-Alexis Muenier, Villefranche Harbour, Nice, 1894, oil on canvas, 54cm x 65.5cm Antell Collections, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Asko Penna

Albert Edelfelt’s Artworks in the Ateneum Art Museum’s Collection and His Role as an Art Expert and Intermediary

Hanne Selkokari, PhD, curator, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum

This presentation was given to the Albert Edelfelt Seminar organised at the Petit Palais, Paris, on 20 May 2022, in connection with the Albert Edelfelt Exhibition 

The key role played by Albert Edelfelt (1854–1905) in Finnish art and its art field is reflected in the large collection of his works at the Ateneum Art Museum / Finnish National Gallery. It includes more than 6,900 items and is the largest collection of his art in a Finnish museum. Most of these items are naturally individual pages from the artist’s sketchbooks.[1] Edelfelt also had an important role in Finland as an intermediary within the art field.

In this presentation, I will discuss both his own artworks in our collection and how they came to the museum, as well as how he used his connections in France to buy artworks and organise art exhibitions at the Ateneum. I will also show how, after Edelfelt’s death, his family took on the role of preservers and protectors of his artistic work and his reputation, and how when Edelfelt’s closest family died out, the most private works of his artistic career came to the Ateneum.

It is also interesting to consider how the collection of Edelfelt’s art was formed, as he had an exceptional influence over which of his artworks were acquired for the collection of the Finnish Art Society, now the Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. The Art Society started to collect artworks and owned the collection from 1846 to 1939.

Already as a boy and through his family connections, Edelfelt knew all of the leading figures of the Art Society and was in active contact with them while he was studying in Antwerp and later in Paris. The first acquisition was made as early as 1876, when Edelfelt was still a young art student – a set of eight academic studies from 1874–75 (A I 215 A–H). Two years later Edelfelt’s first major history painting, Duke Karl Insulting the Corpse of Klaus Fleming (1878, A I 212), was purchased for the collection. After that many of the works that he showed in Paris were bought by the Finnish Art Society. During his lifetime, a total of 29 of his works were acquired for this purpose. Edelfelt was often personally involved in deciding on these acquisitions as he had great influence both in the Art Society and the Artists’ Association of Finland, as well as in the Antell Delegation. Few, if any, artists have ever had this kind of power concerning national collections in Finland.

[1] See Albert Edelfelt’s artworks and sketchbooks at the Finnish National Gallery Collection: https://www.kansallisgalleria.fi/en/search?authors[]=Albert%20Edelfelt&category=artwork (accessed 15 November 2022).

Featured image: Jules-Alexis Muenier, Villefranche Harbour, Nice, 1894, oil on canvas, 54cm x 65.5cm. Antell Collections, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Asko Penna
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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Senior conservator for contemporary art at the Finnish National Gallery Siukku Nurminen goes smoke diving to light incense cakes inside an enclosure during the installation of Collateral, by Sheela Gowda, for the exhibition ‘ARS22: Living Encounters’ Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

A Life in Conservation

 Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

The Finnish National Gallery’s senior conservator for contemporary art, Siukku Nurminen, has turned her hand to the most unexpected tasks during her 35-year career, as well as developing the field of Finnish conservation, as she explains in an interview with Gill Crabbe

When I was young, perhaps seven or eight years old, I wrote a story at school, describing how when I grow up I shall study at the Ateneum[1]. On other hand I was also dreaming of becoming a schlager singer, so that I could buy Porsches for my elder brothers.
– Siukku Nurminen

From conserving the 16th-century panel paintings of Lucas Cranach, to repairing a sculpture by contemporary artist Anni Rapinoja of a handbag made from bog whortleberry containing moose droppings, the senior conservator at the Finnish National Gallery Siukku Nurminen has seen some big changes in the kinds of works entering the conservation room over the four decades she has been working in the field. Having finished school in 1977, there was no dedicated training course in conservation available in Finland at the time. But once she gained her Diploma in the Conservation of Works of Art in 1987 from Vantaa Institute for Arts and Crafts, Nurminen joined the Fine Arts Academy of Finland as a conservator at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum. Five years later, she moved to the Ateneum Art Museum / Finnish National Gallery. As her career developed, she gained a BA from EVTEK Institute of Art and Design in 2004 and a Masters in Culture and Art in 2009. She has now worked at the FNG’s Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma since 1997.

When I contact Nurminen to arrange an interview and mention some of the background research I have done, she replies: ‘I see you have been doing some detective work.’ As they say, it takes one to know one, and perhaps of all the skills required in her profession it is the forensic attention to detail in piecing together how materials endure, as well as a persistent curiosity, that are the most essential requirements in her field. ‘Being a conservator is indeed like being a detective,’ she says. ‘We must solve what the criminals (artists) have done. It is like the criminals (artists) are always a little further ahead of us,’ she smiles.

One approach that Nurminen certainly brings to her work is a sense of adventure. Following the principle that there is no better way to understand how an artist uses their more unusual materials than to engage in the actual making of the piece, Nurminen lights up as she describes burning the incense in the process of installing an artwork that was shown at the recent ARS22 exhibition at Kiasma. The installation piece, Collateral (2007), by Sheela Gowda, consisted of dozens of burnt incense cakes, their residual heaps of ash in various shapes presented resting on low wooden tables covered in steel mesh.

[1] There were two schools at the Ateneum then: Finnish Art Academy School, now the Academy of Fine Arts, Uniarts Helsinki and the University of Art and Design, now Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture.

Featured image: Senior conservator for contemporary art at the Finnish National Gallery Siukku Nurminen (front) lights incense cakes inside an enclosure during the installation of Collateral, by Sheela Gowda, for the exhibition ‘ARS22: Living Encounters’
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

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To see an excerpt from the installation process of Sheela Gowda’s Collateral at the ARS22 exhibition at Kiasma, click ‘play’ below. Video: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

 

Elga Sesemann, Street View, 1947, pastel on paper, 48.3cm x 37.5cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

Hauntings: Taking a Look at Elga Sesemann’s Landscapes

Emmi Halmesvirta, MA student, University of Helsinki

Introduction

Inspired by the exhibition ‘The Modern Woman’ at the Ateneum Art Museum earlier this year, I consider the work of one of the artists in the show, Elga Sesemann (1922–2007), who is now becoming an increasingly interesting figure after largely being consigned to obscurity in Finnish art history.[1]

I will attempt to introduce a new analytical perspective into the discussion regarding Sesemann’s career in the 1940s and my text is to some extent experimental. The decade of Sesemann’s powerfully expressionist painting has already attracted curiosity among scholars, but nevertheless research on this artist remains limited. In 1959 Sesemann wrote an autobiographical novel, Kuvajaisia – erään omakuvan taustamaisemaa (Reflections – the background view of a certain self-portrait[2]). The novel has been applied to the study of her self-portraiture.[3] The framework in this article is taken from sociology, but my hope is that by reconciling sociological writing with art history, it will be possible to bring something new to the discussion of the expressionism for which Sesemann’s paintings from the period are known.

Elga Sesemann was born in 1922 and raised in Tienhaara, in the vicinity of Vyborg, in Karelia. She was from a family of Baltic-Russian-Finnish heritage, who had migrated from Lübeck to Vyborg during the 1660s. Her father Edgar Sesemann, an engineer, was the director of a local oil company.[4] The family home of the young Elga was both bourgeois and artistic, with music being especially important in the family.[5] The languages spoken at home were Russian and German.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, the 17-year-old Elga had to leave her hometown behind.[6] Earlier in 1939, to the great sorrow of Elga, her father had passed away. They evacuated briefly to Nakkila, in Western Finland, from where the family of now three (Elga, her sister Nelly and mother Olga) made their way to Helsinki. Settling in the Kaivopuisto neighbourhood, Elga then began her art studies.[7] These years were formative in giving birth to Sesemann’s vision of how to paint original, powerful, and even radical work.[8] Elga met her future husband Seppo Näätänen (1920–64) at the art school, and in 1945 they married.

In addition to producing self-portraits of psychological depth and mystery, during the 1940s Sesemann also made portraits (many of them commissions), landscapes, interiors, still-lifes and works that the art historian Riitta Konttinen describes as ‘pictures of the mind’.[9] This short article looks at a couple of her landscapes and interiors, which so far have received less attention than the self-portraits from the same period.

The first section introduces the theoretical background. The second scrutinises Sesemann’s landscapes depicting the urban environment, and the final section draws the themes and concepts of the article to a conclusion.

[1] E.g. Master’s thesis by Rosa Huupponen in 2021. ‘Kaikki tämä on ollut eikä tule koskaan enää. Sitä on vaikea ajatella.Omaelämäkerrallisuus, eksistentialismi ja moniaikaisuus kuvataiteilija Elga Sesemannin tuotannossa. Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Jyväskylä. https://jyx.jyu.fi/handle/123456789/76326 (accessed 15 October 2022).

[2] Free translation by the author of this article. To the best of the author’s knowledge, the novel has not been published in English.

[3] Rosa Huupponen applies textual references from the autobiographical novel to the analysis of Elga Sesemann’s self-portraits. The author claims that the themes and subjects in Sesemann’s paintings resonate with the subject matters in the novel. Huupponen, ‘Kaikki tämä on ollut…’, 5.

[4] Riitta Konttinen. Täältä tullaan! Naistaiteilijat modernin murroksessa. Helsinki: Siltala, 2017, 238.

[5] Edgar Sesemann, Elga’s father, made instruments, which were so-called ‘Sesemann-violins’ and repaired cellos. Her mother, Olga Sesemann, played the piano. Konttinen, Naistaiteilijat modernin murroksessa, 240–41.

[6] E.g. Konttinen, Naistaiteilijat modernin murroksessa, 238.

[7] Her first studies were in the evening classes of the School of Applied Arts, where she was subsequently accepted as a student of the drawing school. In 1943 she began her studies in painting at the same school, continuing at the Free Art School until 1944. Konttinen, Naistaiteilijat modernin murroksessa, 242.

[8] Konttinen, Naistaiteilijat modernin murroksessa, 242.

[9] Konttinen, Naistaiteilijat modernin murroksessa, 243.

Featured image: Elga Sesemann, Street View, 1947, pastel on paper, 48.3cm x 37.5cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

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Installation view of Jenna Sutela’s I Magma, 2019, comprising head-shaped lava lamps and mobile app, on display in ‘ARS22 Living Encounters’ at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

ARS22 – Living Encounters

João Laia, Chief Curator, Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma

Also published in Leevi Haapala, João Laia, Jari-Pekka Vanhala (eds.), ARS22: Eläviä kohtaamisia – Living Encounters. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 173/2022. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma & Milan: Mousse Publishing, 2022.

We live in a time of generalised crisis. Developments in ecology, economics, health, labour, migration, politics, technology, and beyond have triggered an ‘emergency convergence’ through which these fields manifest as part of a cumulative, integrated movement. Yet despite this confluence, translated in the mutual implication and global reach of this manifold crisis, such coalition does not unify the world and its agents under identical conditions. Defined by the feminist theorist Rosi Braidotti as a technologically mediated interlinking with the ‘natural-culture continuum of our terrestrial milieu’, the webbed composition of life on Earth also includes differences regarding human geographical location and/or ‘access to social and legal entitlements, technologies, safety, prosperity, and good health services’. In fact, accrued historically through processes of domination and exclusion, inequality has in recent times expanded around the world, although – and depending on their contextual inscription – each actor perceives the impacts of these intensifying tensions differently. In Braidotti’s words, ‘(t)he sexualised others (non-binary, women, LBGTQ+); the racialised others (non-Europeans, indigenous); and the naturalised others (animals, plants, the Earth)’ have permanently throughout history been closer to any given crisis.[1]

The urgent features of the current situation have given rise to a generalised sense of anxiety and menace. For Braidotti, ‘(e)xhaustion and fatigue – a recurrent sense of hopelessness and impossibility – have become prominent features of the contemporary psychic landscapes’, functioning as ‘witnesses to the daily and nightly struggles to come to terms with what our world has become and the complexities of our historical context’. The accumulation and overlapping of fatigue, fear, and despair generates feelings of impotence, ‘a social and psychological dimming of a sense of possibility, which triggers a systemic fragmentation and a shattering of our relational capacity’.[2] Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi also identifies a current inability emotionally and rationally to process current events, whose speed is intensifying, leading to nervous overstimulation. Berardi names this state of things ‘chaos’, articulating it as both ‘the measure of the complexity of the world in relation to the capacities of intellectual reduction’ and ‘the excessive density of the infosphere in relation to the psychosphere’.[3] Such argument adds the imprint of technology to the context described by Braidotti, underlining how the digitally led exponential increase of information flows has contributed to the exhaustion of the contemporary psychic landscape and an erosion of collective affinities.

[1] Rosi Braidotti. ‘“We” Are in This Together, But We Are Not One and the Same’, Bioethical Inquiry 17 (2020), 465–69.

[2] Braidotti, ‘“We’ Are in This Together…’, 465–69.

[3] Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi. Futurability: The Age of Impotence and the Horizon of Possibility. London and New York: Verso, 2017, 2.

Featured image: Installation view of Jenna Sutela’s I Magma, 2019, comprising head-shaped lava lamps and mobile app, on display in ‘ARS22 Living Encounters’ at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki
Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

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’ARS22 Living Encounters’, until 16 October 2022, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki

Leevi Haapala, João Laia, Jari-Pekka Vanhala (eds.), ARS22: Eläviä kohtaamisia – Living Encounters. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 173/2022. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma & Milan: Mousse Publishing, 2022, available from the Finnish National Gallery’s webshop, https://museoshop.fi/en/product/ars22-elavia-kohtaamisia-living-encounters/

Jean-Michel Picart, Still life of Flowers, 1600–82, oil on canvas, 35cm x 48.5cm. Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

The Flowering of Science and Art

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

Flower painting in the western canon of art became an independent genre in the 17th century. As the Sinebrychoff Art Museum displays its exhibition ‘Linnaeus: Glimpses of Paradise’, Gill Crabbe asks curator Claudia de Brün about the research involved in developing themes for the show

The Sinebrychoff Art Museum’s ability to tend its garden of art treasures and cultivate innovative exhibition material continues with its wide-ranging show on the theme of the Northern garden, flower painting and its relation to science, ‘Linnaeus: Glimpses of Paradise’. From its own prize possessions of 17th-century flower paintings by artists such as the Dutch master Johannes Borman, court painter to Louis XIV Jean-Michel Picart, and the workshop of the supreme Dutch master Jan Brueghel I, the museum has negotiated loans of significant works in the genre from Northern European museums to complement them. The show’s theme opens out to include floral elements in religious art, the importance of botanical illustration, the meeting of art and science in the vision of the iconic Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, and how floral themes appeared not only via the art that Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff collected but also in the decorative and functional pieces that adorned their everyday life.

There is also the contextual theme of paradise – the word’s original meaning of a walled area or garden being rooted in ancient Iranian language – which takes in the socio-political developments of colonial nations during the 17th and 18th centuries. Exotic plants and species were brought back from voyages of discovery for wealthy elites to create ornamental gardens, with walled enclosures, trees and water fountains providing a haven from the wild nature beyond. In the exhibition, the paintings of such earthly delights as a pineapple plant that bloomed in 1729 at the gardens of royal palace of Ulriksdal near Stockholm, by the Swedish artist David von Cöln (1689–1763), the anthological florilegia of the 16th and 17th centuries, and Hieronymus Francken II’s Connoisseurs at a Gallery, all serve as examples to underline the specific value of plants as collectors’ items in this period.

Featured image: Jean-Michel Picart, Still life of Flowers, 1600–82, oil on canvas, 35cm x 48.5cm. Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis
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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Beckmann’s Syntonos-Colours sales catalogue. Akseli Gallen-Kallela Archive, Gallen-Kallela Museum, Espoo Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hanne Tikkala

Indian Yellow and Titanium White – A Material-centred Perspective on the Pigments Used by Artists Helene Schjerfbeck and Akseli Gallen-Kallela in the 1920s

Hanne Tikkala, corresponding author, MA, PhD student, University of Jyväskylä, Finland, Senior researcher, Finnish National Gallery, Materials research laboratory (hanne.tikkala@fng.fi), and Seppo Hornytzkyj, MSc, PhD student, University of Helsinki, supervisor of this research

This article presents the results of material studies focused on identifying and comparing the contents of the pigment palettes of two notable Finnish painters, Helene Schjerfbeck (1862–1946) and Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865–1931). The research methods used comprise energy-dispersive X-ray fluorescence spectrometry (EDXRF) and polarised light microscopy (PLM). In addition, certain pigments have been identified in colour areas of the works using specular reflection FT-infrared spectrometry (FTIR) and Raman spectrometry.[1] To support the results gathered using scientific analytical methods, archival research has been conducted in order to find notes and references to the pigments made by the artists themselves.

Prior to the research, the main composition of Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s pigment palette was identified using the first two of the aforementioned analytical methods. The results of the research study in question were presented in the online journal of the Society for Art History in Finland Tahiti, published in March 2020.[2] A similar research project began in the autumn of 2020 in order to identify the composition of Helene Schjerfbeck’s pigment palette. The research is ongoing and the results will be published over the coming years.

[1] All the methods used are non-invasive and/or non-destructive.

[2] Hanne Tikkala and Seppo Hornytzkyj. ‘Luonnontieteellisin analyysimenetelmin tunnistettu Akseli Gallen-Kallelan väripaletti’, Tahiti, 10(1), 5–55, https://doi.org/10.23995/tht.90554 (accessed 7 June 2022).

Featured image: Beckmann’s Syntonos-Colours sales catalogue. Akseli Gallen-Kallela Archive, Gallen-Kallela Museum, Espoo
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hanne Tikkala

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