Featured image: Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Death and the Flower, woodcut, 9.5cm x 5.5cm Antell Collections, Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

Gothic Modern

Albrecht Dürer, St Sebastian Bound to the Tree, 1500–02, engraving, 11.5cm x 7.1cm Antell Collections, Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen
Albrecht Dürer, St Sebastian Bound to the Tree, 1500–02, engraving, 11.5cm x 7.1cm
Antell Collections, Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen Creative Commons – Copyright free

The international research and exhibition project Gothic Modern has been launched by the Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. The project schedule spans 2018 to 2025. ‘Gothic Modern: from Medieval and Northern Renaissance to Dark, Emotive, Uncanny Modern Art’ explores the pivotal importance of Gothic art for the artistic modernisms of the late 19th and early 20th centuries

  • An ambitious new approach to modern art focusing on the untold story of Nordic and Northern European medieval reinventions from the 1890s to the fall of the Weimar Republic.
  • Illuminates the Gothic as a core fascination for late 19th and early 20th-century art, crossing cultural borders, transcending nationalism, straddling war and its aftermath.
  • Reveals a hidden aspect of the work of Edvard Munch and Käthe Kollwitz through their deep attraction to the art of the ‘Gothic’ past, as well as how this resonated for their contemporaries, such as Theodor Kittelsen, Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Hugo Simberg and Helene Schjerfbeck.
  • Explores how these artists were inspired by medieval art through pilgrimages, eroticism and the ‘Dance of Death’ to create powerful new expressions of artistic and cultural identity: of sexuality and trauma; death and reconnection.
  • The focus is on major fin-de-siècle and early 20th-century Nordic, German and Russian artworks alongside rare medieval and Northern Renaissance objects
  • A compelling exploration of the Gothic for the 21st century, concerning the individual, gender, difference and transnational community, entwined with the dark, the emotive and uncanny, as well as connected cultures, places and new spaces of art.
    (Juliet Simpson, 2021)

Guest Curator
Professor Dr Juliet Simpson, Professor of Art History, and Chair of Visual Art and Cultural Memory, Coventry University, UK, juliet.simpson@coventry.ac.uk

Project Leader, Ateneum Art Museum – Finnish National Gallery
Dr Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, Chief Curator of exhibitions and research, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki, abonsdor@fng.fi

Partners
National Museum, Oslo and Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin


Hugo Simberg, Boy from Säkkijärvi, 1897, oil on canvas, 31.3cm x 43.5cm Ester and Jalo Sihtola Fine Arts Foundation Donation, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Janne Mäkinen
Hugo Simberg, Boy from Säkkijärvi, 1897, oil on canvas, 31.3cm x 43.5cm
Ester and Jalo Sihtola Fine Arts Foundation Donation, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Janne Mäkinen
Creative Commons – Copyright free

Gothic Modern News and Upcoming Events

Forthcoming – Autumn 2021

  • ‘Gothic Connections and Connectors – Afterlives of Medieval Art in the Baltic and Nordic Countries: 1870s–1920s’, international research conference, organised by Prof. Juliet Simpson and Dr Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, in the Ateneum Art Museum / Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki, Autumn 2021

Gothic Modern Publications – FNG Research New Online Series

Featured image: Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Death and the Flower, woodcut, 9.5cm x 5.5cm
Antell Collections, 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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Featured image: Bernt Notke, Dance of Death, end of the 15th century, oil on canvas, 160cm x 750cm, from St Nicolas’ Church, Tallinn, and now housed at the city’s Art Museum of Estonia Photo: Abrget47j / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Writing the Gothic: Defining the Character of Medieval Heritage in Estonia from the late 19th Century to the 1930s

Dr Krista Kodres, Professor, Estonian Academy of Arts, Tallinn

This is a detailed abstract of the lecture given by Professor Kodres at the online Knowledge Sharing Workshop of the Gothic Modern Research Project, on 25 March 2021

How were different art-historiographical cultures involved in shaping the understanding of Gothic art and architecture in Estonia, a country that in the late 19th and early 20th century was part of tsarist Russia and which then, in 1918, became an independent republic? In my presentation, I also ask what kind of life-world the various art-historical interpretations created in the imagination: how did they define the spatial and temporal cultural belonging of different nationalities within Estonia.

The first art-historical surveys of Estonian local heritage were written by Baltic-German art historians. Artistic and architectural production was systematised and ordered into periods on the basis of formal stylistics. The Gothic style found its place from the start, and it also coincided with the beginning of Danish-German colonisation and the Christianisation of the Old Livonian territories in the 13th century, thus forming the foundation for all of the subsequent artistic development, i.e. Estonian art history. At the same time however, the Gothic in Estonia has been viewed as a belated and less artistic peripheral version of the German spirit. In order to overcome this unhappy conclusion, a special rhetoric was elaborated.

The first modern art historian who had to face these issues was Wilhelm Neumann (1849–1919), who was also active as an architect, and who in his later years was the Director of the Latvian Art Museum in Riga. In his book Grundriss einer Geschichte der bildenden Künste und des Kunstegewerbes in Liv-, Est- und Kurland (Reval 1887), Neumann wrote about the ‘slow becoming’ and ‘delayed arrival’ of the Gothic style because of the distance ‘from trend-setting centres and the conservative character of the inhabitants’. Therefore, he continued, ‘the forms never reached the clarity and richness of ideas and noble sublimity that is characteristic of the South [of Europe]’. In order to balance this aesthetic inequality, Neumann connected the development of Gothic forms to the use of local materials and thus made the architecture correspond to given special circumstances: ‘He (das Land) understood how to create new art forms that correspond to the nature of local materials…’ Hence, it is the Land and its people who give art-historical meaning to monuments. In the booklet he wrote for the local clergy, who were the keepers of medieval church buildings, Neumann crystallises this meaning: ‘Monuments of art and architecture are witnesses of the historical past of our homeland. The purpose of their maintenance is to preserve our consciousness of belonging to our cosy homeland, and to keep the memory of our ancestors alive’ (Merkbüchlein für Denkmalpflege auf dem Lande, Riga 1911). Accordingly, in Neumann’s view, all art-historical objects are important as material instruments of identity; they possess the ability to reflect history and affect feelings; they induce a sense of belonging. At the same time, the Gothic was determined to be the strongest signifier of ‘German power’ (Kraft) by the man who had greatly inspired Neumann, the German art historian Wilhelm Lübke.

Featured image: Bernt Notke, Dance of Death, late 15th century, oil on canvas, 160cm x 750cm, from St Nicolas’ Church, Tallinn, and now housed at the city’s Art Museum of Estonia
Photo: Abrget47j / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

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Ilya Repin and Vera Repina (centre, front) with their neighbours at Repin’s 85th birthday celebrations in Kuokkala on 5 August 1929. Vasily Levi is third from left. Photographer unknown. Lauri Haataja Repin Collection. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery

The Artist, his Admirers, his Dealers and Inheritors – Ilya Repin and his Career in the Republic of Finland

Timo Huusko, Ph.Lic., Chief Curator, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum

This is a revised and extended version of Timo Huusko’s article ‘Ilya Repin’s early art exhibitions in Finland’, published in Anne-Maria Pennonen (ed.), Ilya Repin. Ateneum Publications Vol. 147. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, 2021, 103–27. Transl. Don McCracken

Ilya Repin was faced with a new, unexpected situation when the October Revolution of 1917 severed the close ties between St Petersburg and Kuokkala in Finland. He had become accustomed to many changes in the course of his long life, but up until then these had been mainly due to his own decisions, especially his bold departure from Chuguev to St Petersburg to study art in 1863, then moving on to Moscow in 1877 and exhibiting with the non-academic Peredvizhniki (Wanderers) group. Repin returned to St Petersburg in 1882, and in 1892 he became first a teacher at the Imperial Academy of Arts, and later its Director. He also acquired a place in the countryside near Vitebsk in Zdrawneva, Belarus, in 1892, and subsequently entered into a relationship with Natalia Nordmann, with whom he purchased a house in Kuokkala on the Karelian Isthmus in 1899. In 1903, he moved permanently to Kuokkala and two years later retired from the Academy. These decisions were all made as a result of more-or-less conscious judgments that influenced his quality of life and relationship networks.

Things changed in 1918, however, and Repin was no longer in control. Nordmann (1863–1914) had died of pneumonia in Switzerland four years earlier, and the border between Finland and Russia was closed in April 1918 in the wake of the October Revolution and the Finnish Civil War, leaving Repin a 73-year-old Russian emigré in the newly-independent Finland. His property in Russia was confiscated, and for nearly three years he was virtually ignorant of what was happening in Soviet Russia.[1] On top of all that, his right hand had become partially paralysed, preventing him from working properly after 1903. He lived in his studio house, Penates (Penaty) with two servants and his daughter Nadya (Nadezhda), who had learning disabilities. His son Yury lived nearby with his family and his eldest daughter Vera moved to Penates from the Soviet Union in 1922. His third daughter Tatyana lived in Zdrawneva until 1930.

By this point Repin had lost his former network of exhibitors and buyers, along with the Russian intelligentsia and circle of patrons that had given him job opportunities and also provided inspiring food for thought. In fact, Repin had cut himself off from the St Petersburg elite after moving to Kuokkala in 1903, although at that time a St Petersburg newspaper had reported he was still voted the fourth best-known Russian after Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Gorky.[2] The way that he distanced himself can be seen, for example, in the fact that he became interested in the free co-operative movement and a self-sufficient economy in the spirit of Tolstoy, as well as in democratic, non-hierarchical structures and ideas about living in harmony with nature in general. Repin and Nordmann’s weekly receptions at Penates on Wednesdays offered only vegetarian food and self-service at the dining table, although that did not stop prominent Russian writers and artists visiting him until the outbreak of the First World War. While Repin opposed new art trends, such as the aestheticism of the Mir iskusstva (World of Art) group and especially the early avant-garde, nevertheless in the mid-1910s he became acquainted with, for example, Vladimir Mayakovsky and David Burliuk, whom he met at the villa of his neighbour, the author Korney Chukovsky.[3]

[1] Elizabeth Kridl Valkenier. Ilya Repin and the World of Russian Art. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990, 186–87. According to Tito Colliander, Repin last visited Russia in November 1917. See Tito Colliander. Ilja Repin, ukrainalainen taiteilija. Helsinki: Tammi, 1944, 331.

[2] ‘Ett och annat’, Hufvudstadsbladet, 4 July 1903.

[3] Olli Valkonen. ‘Ilja Repin ja Suomi’, in Ilja Repin. Exhibition catalogue. Helsinki : Taidekeskus Retretti, 1995, 38–43. After the revolution, Chukovsky remained in Soviet Russia, where he became a major children’s writer. He was also a significant person in Repin’s life as editor of Repin’s memoirs, which the artist began to compile in Kuokkala. The memoirs were completed as early as 1916, but were not published in the Soviet Union until 1937.

Featured image: Ilya Repin and Vera Repina (centre, front) with their neighbours at Repin’s 85th birthday celebrations in Kuokkala on 5 August 1929. Vasily Levi is third from left. Photographer unknown. Lauri Haataja Repin Collection. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery

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Ilya Repin’s first letter to the Finnish Art Society, undated, 1919. Minutes 1917–20. The Archives of the Finnish Art Society. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

Sources for Ilya Repin Researchers in the Archive Collections of the Finnish National Gallery

Helena Hätönen, MA, Curator, Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery

This text is based on the article ‘Sources for Ilya Repin’s Researchers in the Finnish Central Archives’, first published in the exhibition catalogue Repin: A Russian Master’s Life and Work in Finland. Tallinn: Art Museum of Estonia – Kadriorg Art Museum, 2013. Transl. from Finnish to Estonian by Meelis Lainvoo and from Estonian to English by Juta Ristsoo

Documentary materials related to the painter Ilya Repin (1844–1930), starting from 1910, are stored in the Archive Collections of the Finnish National Gallery.[1] Along with specialised art-historical archives and documents, these collections include photos and other pictorial material, audiovisual recordings, literature and newspaper articles related to and associated with the fine arts.[2]

The oldest material in the Archive Collections is based on the collections of the Finnish National Gallery’s earliest predecessor – the Finnish Art Society, which was the administrative arm of the fine arts scene in Finland between 1846 and 1939. These collections became the responsibility of the Fine Arts Academy of Finland Foundation, inaugurated in 1940. The Foundation became a state-owned museum, the Finnish National Gallery in 1990 and, at that time, the Central Art Archives was established along with the other museum departments. In 2014, the National Gallery was reconstituted as a foundation and the functions of the Central Art Archives were included in the new Department of Collections Management.

Ilya Repin’s ties with Finland became stronger when, at the beginning of the 1900s, he started coming from St Petersburg to visit the holiday destination of Kuokkala at Kivennapa, in Vyborg County on the Karelian Isthmus. As a result the Finnish press started to pay more attention to Repin, who was a famous professor at Russia’s Imperial Academy of Arts. In 1897 the Finnish Art Society started to document the fine arts scene and began a press cuttings collection. At first, it was limited to a few Swedish-language newspapers in Finland, but gradually spread to publications throughout the country. The information on Ilya Repin in the press cuttings collection in today’s Finnish National Gallery dates back to 1906, when Repin’s studio was completed as an annex to Penates, his summer house in Kuokkala.[3]

[1] The original text for this article was produced by the Central Art Archives, a department of the Finnish National Gallery from 1990–2013. The writer has now updated the contents to correspond to the current situation in the Archive Collections of the Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki.

[2] By 2021, approximately 215 separate archives, most of them acquired as donations, have been assembled in the Archive Collections of the Finnish National Gallery.

[3] ‘Den berömda ryska målaren’, Nya Pressen, 7 July 1906. Scrapbook V. Press cuttings collection. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki (AC, FNG).

Featured image: Detail of Ilya Repin’s first letter to the Finnish Art Society, undated, 1919. Minutes 1917–20. The Archives of the Finnish Art Society. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

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Jacopo Bassano, Virgin and Child with John the Baptist and St Anthony the Abbot, c. 1560–65, oil on canvas, 108cm x 130cm Ester and Jalo Sihtola Fine Arts Foundation Donation, Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Matti Janas

A Renaissance Masterpiece in the Sinebrychoff Art Museum – Virgin and Child with John the Baptist and St Anthony the Abbot, by Jacopo Bassano

Kirsi Eskelinen, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum

Preface

Virgin and Child with John the Baptist and St Anthony the Abbot, by Jacopo Bassano (c. 1510–92), which was painted in the early 1560s, is one of the rare Italian Renaissance paintings in Finland. It belongs to the Ester and Jalo Sihtola Fine Arts Foundation Donation in the Finnish National Gallery and is a highlight of the Sinebrychoff Art Museum. My first encounter with the painting while a young university student was pivotal in my choice of professional career. Since then I have been studying different aspects of the art of this great master painter.[1] The Sihtola painting is well known to scholars. It was included in the important exhibitions at the Museo Civico in Bassano del Grappa in 1992 and also at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, in 1993.[2] At the beginning of 1992, the results of the research project on Italian art in the Finnish collections carried out at the University of Helsinki from the mid-1980s onwards were published in the Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery Bulletin and an exhibition was organised at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum.[3] On that occasion I highlighted in my article the distinguished and noble, yet hitherto unknown provenance of this painting. The re-publication of that article in FNG Research is prompted by the current plans for a monographic exhibition on Jacopo Bassano in the near future. The exhibitions in 1992, and the show in Museo Civico in Bassano del Grappa in 2010 are the last monographic exhibitions on Jacopo Bassano. The forthcoming exhibition in Helsinki, which has been preliminarily scheduled to 2024, will actually be the first monographic show on the artist to be mounted outside Italy.

I hope that this re-publication online will disseminate the results on the provenance of the painting more widely and will promote its further research. We are also publishing here all of the information on the frame moulding of the painting, which includes images of a coat of arms and a seal and three paper labels. These details were not included in the original 1992 article.[4]

[1] My dissertation, which I defended at the University of Helsinki in 2008, dealt with Jacopo Bassano as a fresco painter. Kirsi Eskelinen. Jacopo Bassano freskomaalarina. Cartiglianon ja Enegon kirkkojen freskot: konteksti, rekonstruktio ja tulkinta. (Jacopo Bassano as a fresco painter. The frescoes of Cartigliano and Enego Parish Churches: context, reconstruction and interpretation). Helsinki: Suomen kirkkohistoriallinen seura / Societas historiae ecclesiasticae Fennica, 2008. An important conference on Jacopo Bassano was organised in Bassano del Grappa and Padua in 2011. The paper I presented there is published, see Kirsi Eskelinen. ‘Una proposta per la lettura iconografica delle Stagioni di Jacopo Bassano’, in Claudia Caramanna and Federico Millozzi (eds.), Jacopo Bassano, I figli, la scuola, l’eredità: Atti del Convegno Internazionale di Studio: Bassano del Grappa, Museo Civico, Padova, Università degli Studi, Archivio Antico del Bò, 30 marzo – 2 aprile 2011, Bollettino del Museo Civico di Bassano 30–31 (2009–10), 32–33 (2011–12), 34 (2013). Bassano del Grappa: Centro di documentazione sui Bassano W.R. Rearick, 2014, (Vol. 1, 142–59).

[2] Beverly Louise Brown and Paola Marini (eds.). Jacopo Bassano c. 1510–1592. Bologna: Nuova Alfa Editore, 1992.

[3] Kirsi Eskelinen. ‘Neitsyt Maria, Jeesus-lapsi, Johannes Kastaja ja Pyhä Antonius Apotti (Sacra conversazione), Jacopo Bassano = Virgin and Child with John the Baptist and St Anthony the Abbot (Sacra Conversazione), Jacopo Bassano. Conservator’s report / Sirkka Nurminen. Ateneum, Valtion taidemuseon museojulkaisu / The Finnish National Gallery Bulletin 1992. Helsinki: Valtion taidemuseo, 1992, (42–47).

[4] They were discussed and reproduced in a research report. See Kirsi Eskelinen. ‘Jacopo Bassanon Sacra Conversazione Sihtolan kokoelmissa’, in Italialaisia renessanssimaalauksia suomalaisissa kokoelmissa 1, Taidehistorialliset analyysit ja selvitykset (esitutkimus). Helsinki, 1988, 80–124, 229, kuvat 4–7; III Kuvat.

Featured image: Jacopo Bassano, Virgin and Child with John the Baptist and St Anthony the Abbot, c. 1560–65, oil on canvas, 108cm x 130cm
Ester and Jalo Sihtola Fine Arts Foundation Donation, Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Matti Janas

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Magnus Enckell, Awakening Faun, 1914, oil on canvas, 65.5cm x 81cm Hoving Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

Magnus Enckell – Decoding an Enigma

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

Following a major exhibition of the Finnish painter Magnus Enckell (1870–1925) at the Ateneum Art Museum, Gill Crabbe asks art historian and author, Dr Harri Kalha about how the artist’s work has been received over the years, and what issues have surrounded Enckell’s placement in the canon of Finnish art

Gill Crabbe: The Ateneum exhibition is the first full-scale survey of Magnus Enckell’s output, covering a wide range of his production, from intimate portraits to landscapes, from monumental public commissions for churches, to explorations of archetypal themes, such as Fantasy and Melancholy. Harri, you have contributed two essays in the accompanying catalogue. Can you say a little about your background and how you came to be interested in Enckell’s art?

Harri Kalha: I began my scholarly career in the 1990s, deconstructing the idea of ‘Finnishness’ in and around the post-war Golden Age of Finnish Design and Crafts, and gained a PhD in 1997. So questions of reception, textual analysis and discourse were already second nature to me when I wrote my first study on Enckell in 1999. I have since worked on several ‘problematic’ cases relating particularly to scandals concerning (in)decency, such as the public debate around Ville Vallgren’s Havis Amanda, a fountain and a statue in Helsinki, on which I published a book in 2008.

As for Enckell, what initially inspired me – and baffled me – had to do with a sense of frustration, going all the way back to my first years as an art history student. At that time Enckell was certainly presented as part of the canon, but with qualifications. What is worse, Enckell the person, as well as any concrete meanings that might have been attributed to his art, eluded me. Even the lecturers seemed ill at ease, awkwardly regurgitating acquired terms and attitudes. There was much use of sanahelinä, as we say in Finnish – lofty words with little substance. Sexuality was of course not even an issue, God forbid.

GC: Looking at the role played by art historians in evolving the canon of art, on what basis has Enckell been placed in the canon of Finnish art and what place does he occupy internationally?

HK: Enckell’s canonic status derives mainly from his role as a turn-of the-century Symbolist and the ‘modernist’ starkness of his early works, which have for long held a central place at the Ateneum Art Museum, for example. On the other hand, art history recognises his later role as a spokesman for Post-Impressionist ideals. Internationally Enckell is little known, and quite understandably so. His oeuvre is not vast, particularly when it comes to the Symbolist period. It lacks the nationalist subtext that has traditionally intrigued foreign critics and curators – Post-Impressionist painting has not been considered as sexy for foreign audiences as National Romanticism has. However, Enckell does enjoy a certain ‘underground’ status deriving from a tradition of gay sensibility; that is to say that certain works have always resonated with queer viewers. More recently, international gay histories and encyclopedias have included Enckell in the global catalogue of ‘gay art’, although truth be told, we know precious little about his sexuality.

GC: If art-historical research involves a process of revealing the factors influencing the construction of the art-historical canon, what methods have you used in evolving this process in relation to understanding Enckell’s art?

HK: In my book Tapaus Magnus Enckell (2005) and a group of related articles, I analysed both the contemporary reception of the artist’s work and later art-historical accounts, in order to deconstruct ‘Enckelliana’ as a textual corpus. Unlike traditional studies of how various artists have been received, my take was informed by post-structuralist conceptualisations of discourse (Foucault) and mythology (Barthes). Whereas a text itself is, as it were, innocent, discourse is what we arrive at through close-reading: this can be rife with chauvinistic attitudes, ideological presences or mythologising narratives – various ‘regimes of truth’ that art history thrives on. There are often hidden agendas, if you like, since the meanings are not necessarily explicit, but lurking between the lines or embedded deep within metaphorical language. So it is really an exercise in reading, and in subtle contextualising.

On the other hand, back then I was in the process of discovering myself as writer, so I wanted to give my pen some leeway as well, not least in order to modify the sense of scholarly scrutiny, of ruthless dissection of the work done by my peers and predecessors. So I devoted a couple of chapters in Tapaus Magnus Enckell to reading, not just texts, but chosen artworks, thus positioning my writing as an object of scrutiny for contemporaries and future scholars. I named these chapters lukuhäiriöitä (‘reading disturbances’; unfortunately the pun doesn’t translate) and they are a tad more essayistic than the rest of the book. Come to think of it, my work from that period thrives on puns and palimpsest, reflecting my natural investment in writing, and particularly in metaphoric language, which is a declining art in academia today.

Featured image: Magnus Enckell, Awakening Faun, 1914, oil on canvas, 65.5cm x 81cm
Hoving Collection, 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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Hugo Simberg, Spring Evening, Ice Break, 1897, oil on canvas, 27cm x 37cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Finnish Landscapes on Tour

As the Finnish National Gallery takes an exhibition of Finnish landscape to the United States, Anu Utriainen and Hanne Selkokari from the Ateneum Art Museum discuss its themes with Leslie Anderson of the National Nordic Museum in Seattle to gain a deeper insight and context for the show.

This interview is originally made for and published in Nordic Kultur 2021/22, the Magazine of the National Nordic Museum, Seattle

The exhibition ‘Among Forests and Lakes: Landscape Masterpieces from the Finnish National Gallery’, which opens at the National Nordic Museum in May 2021[1], examines on a wide scale how Finnish artists have depicted the landscape of their native country. The show spans a period of over 100 years from the 1850s to the 1970s, and includes Finnish landscapes from the coast and archipelago in the south to the fells of Lapland and the Arctic Ocean in the North. It celebrates the sophistication of the Finnish art establishment and the concurrent development of the landscape genre through more than 50 paintings, prints, and video art.

The exhibition includes a range of landscape depictions, from idealised views completed in the artist’s studio to realistic scenes painted en plein air and visual expressions of the landscape in a modern artistic language. Organised into four themes, the exhibition also considers the role that landscapes played in the creation of a nation and a national identity.

International research projects and exhibitions form a significant part of the Finnish National Gallery’s operations, both in Europe and overseas. The Ateneum Art Museum has previously worked with Scandinavia House in New York, which served as the first venue of the FNG’s Modern Woman project in 2017. Since then, the show has been exhibited in several cities in Europe as well as further afield in Tokyo.

[1] https://www.nordicmuseum.org/exhibition/forestsandlakes

Featured image: Hugo Simberg, Spring Evening, Ice Break, 1897,
oil on canvas, 27cm x 37cm. 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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Juhana Blomstedt, sketch from Minneapolis series, 1972, gouache on paper, 33,5cm x 44,3cm (leaf). Finnish National Gallery /Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Juhana Blomstedt’s Art and Thought 1970–80

‘I always return equally humbly to the same: To give form, alright, but to what?’[1]

 

Emmi Halmesvirta, MA student, University of Helsinki

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

Introduction

My painting deals with astronomy, history, psychology, politics, culinary art, anatomy, obsessions, warfare, reproduction, erotica, gravity, diving, whirls, bobbins, velocities, atmosphere, animal and plant kingdoms, minerals, statistics, aesthetics, mathematics etc. phenomena and with such things. If my painting cannot convey my personal ‘pathos’, my sense of reality, I have failed.[2]

With this note from 1974 I want to start my endeavour to reveal how the artist Juhana Blomstedt’s (1937–2010) thinking has formed the core of my research during the internship period at the Finnish National Gallery. Blomstedt’s career spanned many decades from the late 1950s[3] until the 2000s. In this article I specifically focus on one decade in his career – the 1970s. I chose the 70s in order to study his development as an artist and thinker at an early and pivotal stage in his career. He had had his true artistic breakthrough in 1966.[4] Moreover, I wanted to study his use of the grid, which I knew he had experimented with, but how and to what purposes I had no idea. Curiously, in the 70s Blomstedt seems to have occupied an interface between a promising young artist and a mature artist, one who had grounded his place in artistic circles. This impression came to me via newspaper articles from 1973, as he was, on two separate occasions in that year, considered part of both the younger and the older generation of abstractionists.[5] This led me to think that this artist and his art are not easily categorised or defined, and this complexity is something I was interested in exploring further.

This article will explore the ways in which Juhana Blomstedt developed or changed his thinking during the 1970s and in order to do that it is necessary to consider his many occupations. Blomstedt was not only an artist, but also a professor, a theorist and writer. As a writer he was industrious, expressing his ideas concerning art, art theory and philosophy among other topics. From his abundant writings, letters and notes, it is clear that his manner of writing varied depending on the purpose and the audience for whom they were intended. His personal notebooks contain a blend of diary-like personal entries and art theory. As an artist Blomstedt worked full-time, taking on commissions for public works, collaborating with the prestigious Galerie Daniel Gervis in Paris from 1970 onwards[6], as well as participating in solo and group exhibitions in Finland and beyond. He also held a position as a visiting fine arts professor in the United States in 1971 and for a year taught at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. This was an opportunity which had opened up for Blomstedt thanks to his collaboration with Daniel Gervis.[7]

[1] ‘Yhtä nöyrästi palaan aina samaan: Antaa muoto, OK mutta mille? […].’ Juhana Blomstedt’s notebook, entry likely in January 1980. 6/3. Juhana Blomstedt Archive (JBA). Archive Collections (AC), Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki (FNG). The numbers before JBA refer to the numbers of the notebooks and files. All translations in this article are by the author.

[2] ‘Maalaukseni on tekemisissä astronomian, historian, psykologian, politiikan, keittiötaidon, anatomian, obsessioiden, sodankäynnin, lisääntymisen, erotiikan, painovoiman, sukeltamisen, hyrrien, kelojen, nopeuksien, atmosfäärin, eläin- ja kasvikunnan, mineraalien, statistiikan, estetiikan, matematiikan ym ilmiöiden ja asioiden kanssa. Ellei maalaukseni pysty välittämään persoonallista “paatostani”, todellisuudentunnettani, olen epäonnistunut.’ Juhana Blomstedt’s notebook, 8 July 1974. 5/3. JBA. AC, FNG.

[3] The curtain for the hall of the Finnish Adult Education Centre in Helsinki, from 1958, can be considered his first major commission.

[4] Ville Lukkarinen. ‘Juhana Blomstedt’, in Rakel Kallio, Veikko Kallio, Saara Salin & Helena Sederholm (eds.), Pinx. Maalaustaide Suomessa: Siveltimen vetoja. Porvoo: Weilin + Göös, 2003, (132–35) 133.

[5] During the same year, in 1973, he was called in two different exhibition reviews in one of them ‘our international constructivist representing the younger generation’, and then in the other ‘a constructivist of the older generation’. See Raimo Viitala. ‘Rakenteellista taidetta, taiteen rakenteellisuutta’, Tyrvään Sanomat, 24 February 1973 and Raimo Reinikainen. ‘Merkintöjä kuvataiteesta’, Kansan Uutiset, 11 February 1973.

[6] In 1970 Juhana Blomstedt had his first solo exhibition at the Daniel Gervis gallery, which kickstarted a long-lasting collaboration. See Timo Valjakka. ‘Elämäkerrallisia tietoja’ (Biography), in Timo Valjakka (ed.), Juhana Blomstedt. Helsinki: WSOY, 2007, (103–15) 106.

[7] Imy Douillard. ‘Elämää muovikuutiossa’, Eeva 2/1973.

Featured image: Juhana Blomstedt, sketch for Minneapolis series, 1972, gouache on paper, 33,5cm x 44,3cm (leaf). Finnish National Gallery /Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

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Ida Silfverberg, Self-Portrait, 1868, oil on canvas, 56.5cm x 46cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery /Kari Soinio

A New Research Project: ‘Pioneering Women Artists in the 19th Century’

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

In Europe, the 19th century was a dynamic period that saw great economic, social, political and cultural changes that had an impact on women and their situation, including their education and their career choices. In the field of the arts, however, there still seems to be relatively little information concerning Nordic women artists at the beginning of the century, and yet we know that several men artists instructed women in their studios. During the first half of the century, painting and drawing were mostly regarded as merely suitable hobbies for women, and nothing more. Women could not attend art academies officially, and only a few worked as professional artists.

‘The Pioneering Women Artists’ research project was launched at the Ateneum Art Museum in September 2020, and now an international research group is to be assembled for the project. The aim is to stimulate research and debate, re-introduce forgotten or neglected women artists, and to present completely new names. The results of the project will be released in the form of a publication and an exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki. The dates of the exhibition will be announced later.

The focus of this research project is on pioneering women artists who were active in Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Baltic countries and Germany in the 19th century. There were big differences between the first and the second half of the century however, so a more precise time frame for the project will be defined later. The starting point of the project is to examine the opportunities for Nordic and Baltic women artists to study and work in their home countries and in Germany. The principal German cities in this respect are Düsseldorf, Dresden, Berlin, Munich, Karlsruhe and Weimar. At the same time, the project also aims to bring forward those women, for instance, from the US, Great Britain, France and Italy who had connections with Germany and possibly also with Nordic and Baltic women artists.

Besides gender, it is also essential to consider the aspect of centre and periphery in the field of arts, culture and science. In the 19th century, Germany constituted a centre in this respect, whereas the Nordic countries, especially Finland and Norway, were regarded as peripheral. Here the concept of periphery is understood as a geographical spatial element that is outside the centre. It is also worth noting that there were centres and peripheries within each Nordic country, and the juxtaposition also concerned their mutual relationships. Thus, Denmark and Sweden acted as centres, as they were politically independent kingdoms with long traditions of university education and their own art academies that had been established in the 18th century. In comparison, Finland and Norway were ruled by Russia and Sweden, and at the beginning of the century, they were only starting to organise their local artistic life and art education. To receive better training, one had to travel abroad.

The approach of this project is mainly art-historical but also cultural-historical, and the topic is examined from the perspectives of education, networks, travel, and movement. In most of these countries women were barred from gaining university degrees or attending art academies. Travelling as such constituted a challenge for them, as they could not travel by themselves as easily as men and they also needed an escort.

Finland as an example of women artists’ situation

In Finland, the situation changed in the mid-19th century when, following examples from Germany, the Finnish Art Society was founded in Helsinki in 1846 and the Society’s Drawing School two years later. Although a traditional drawing school had already been set up in Turku in 1830, it mostly served as an institute for pupils and apprentices for professional painters, and no women were admitted until 1852. The Drawing School of the Finnish Art Society was noteworthy in that it admitted women from the start. As its name suggests, the school mainly focused on drawing, and no nude models were used, which was probably the condition that enabled women to study there. If a student wanted to be instructed in oil painting, they would either have to enlist the services of an artist privately or travel abroad.

A great deal of art-historical writing on the 19th century has discussed the importance of Paris and France. This has also been the case in Finland where artists, including women, discovered Paris and France, especially in the 1880s. This period has been described as the heyday of Finnish women artists. At the same time, the career choices of women artists from earlier times has gained less attention, and the role of Düsseldorf and other German cities has largely been ignored or undervalued. As for Düsseldorf, a considerable amount of research into its Art Academy has been carried out in connection with different exhibitions, and yet women artists’ studies and networks in the city have largely escaped closer examination. However, the city played an important role in the art education of several Nordic women artists before Paris. The first women travelled from Norway and Sweden in the 1840s. They were followed by the Finns in the 1850s. To name a few, there was Amalia Lindegren (1814–91) from Sweden, Aasta Hansteen (1824–1908) from Norway, and Fanny Churberg (1845–92) and Victoria Åberg (1824–92) from Finland. Prior to this, for instance, Dresden had attracted women artists during the first decades of the century. We also know that there were several women studying art in Munich and in Karlsruhe.

Previous academic research and exhibitions on women artists

It was still the accepted truth in the 1940s in Finland that the status of women artists had been exceptionally good, although, as late as the early 1980s writers and exhibitors were interested only in the work of a few women artists. However, the situation started to change in the 1980s when a group of researchers studied women artists at the University of Helsinki. The research was funded by the Academy of Finland and the group was active in 1985–86. This work was followed by the Kristiina Institute, which was founded at the University of Helsinki in 1991 and focused on gender studies. In addition, several museums in Finland, including the Ateneum Art Museum, have organised a wide range of exhibitions on Finnish women artists. Consequently, a considerable amount of research has been carried out to bring more and more forgotten or neglected women artists into the limelight.

Internationally, the volume of research on women artists has increased considerably, since Linda Nochlin published her groundbreaking article in ArtNews ‘Why there have been no great women artists’, in 1971. It was followed by the exhibition ‘Women Artists 1550–1950’ at the Los Angeles County Museum in 1976, which inspired museums to search their collections for forgotten women artists and their works. Interestingly, a year before that, in 1975, however, the Nationalgalerie in East Berlin had organised an exhibition on German women artists under the title ‘Deutsche bildende Künstlerinnen von der Goethezeit bis zur Gegenwart’ (German Women Artists from the Age of Goethe to the Present), which remained unnoticed in the West due to the political situation at the time. Moreover, in 1982, Rozsika Parker and Griselda Pollock introduced a more radical approach in their groundbreaking book Old Mistresses: Women, Art and Ideology. At the same time women’s studies in France focussed more closely on language and literature. Recently, the exhibition ‘Fighting for Visibility. Women Artists of the Nationalgalerie before 1919’, organised in Berlin in 2019, shed light on how women’s artworks made it into the museum’s collections. At the same time, the exhibition also celebrated the centenary of women’s right to start regular studies at the Berlin Art Academy and elsewhere in Germany.

How to participate

We now invite international scholars and museum professionals to participate in the research group. To begin with, the objective is to chart the artists of the period, their works and networks, and to present new, lesser-known artists and their works. Another aim is to compare the education and status of women artists in different countries in the period being studied. We are planning to hold the first international Knowledge Sharing Workshop in the autumn of 2021. The research project is led by Ateneum Art Museum Curator, Dr Anne-Maria Pennonen. For more information, please contact her, anne-maria.pennonen@ateneum.fi.

Featured image: Ida Silfverberg, Self-Portrait, 1868, oil on canvas, 56.5cm x 46cm
Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery /Kari Soinio

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Magnus Enckell, Death’s Walk, 1896, watercolour and pencil on paper, 50.5cm x 67.5cm, Ahlström Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

Tones of Black – Magnus Enckell’s Early Work

Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, PhD, Chief Curator, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, co-curator of ‘Magnus Enckell’ exhibition 2020−21

Also published in Hanne Selkokari (ed.), Magnus Enckell 1870−1925. Ateneum Publications Vol. 141. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, 2020. Transl. Don McCracken

Magnus Enckell may not be a household name but some of his works are very well known. Boy with Skull (1892) and The Awakening (1894) are paintings that have retained their fascination for generations in Finnish art history. But what was Enckell like, as a man and an artist? How did his career begin and how did it progress from the late 19th to the early 20th century?

Enckell was already an influential person from a young age, and his interests and bold artistic experiments were the subject of much attention. His artistic career differed from others of his generation, not least because from the start, he received support from Finland’s most prominent artist, Albert Edelfelt, who also later served as his mentor, yet he was also very international in his artistic taste. When many of his fellow artists were involved with the transnational ideas of national revival, Enckell’s interests were focussed on international art and especially on Symbolism.

Enckell’s life as an artist is intriguingly contradictory, and on a personal level he was apparently complex and often divided opinion.[1] Yet he had many supporters, and he influenced ideas and perceptions about art among his close artist friends. Enckell was also good at networking and he forged his own international connections with artists in Paris. Unlike his contemporaries, he worked and socialised closely with women artists, making no distinction between the sexes, which was very unusual in the late 19th century. In his youth he enjoyed deep mutual appreciation and friendships with Ellen Thesleff, Beda Stjernschantz, and the sculptors Sigrid af Forselles and Madeleine Jouvray, although these relationships changed with the times. As we will see, Enckell was able to move smoothly between the Finnish and international art scenes, private and public, between a wide variety of worlds, both at home and abroad.[2]

Magnus Enckell’s early output, from 1884 to 1896, was prolific but also full of experimentation and ambitious exploration. As with many other artists, it is also fragmented, and not just because he is known to have destroyed some of his work from this time: this makes it rather difficult to compile a coherent picture of the early stages of his career.[3] Jaakko Puokka’s 1949 monograph on Enckell provides a comprehensive, chronological list of works but, since many are undated, my research has led me to form slightly different conclusions.[4]

[1] Johannes Öhqvist. Suomen taiteen historia. Helsinki: Kustannusosakeyhtiö Kirja, 1912, 453−57.

[2] See Marja Lahelma. ‘Beda Stjernschantz’, 70−71; Anu Utriainen. ‘Sigrid af Forselles’, 94−95 and Hanna-Reetta Schreck. ‘“The you of my youth” – Magnus Enckell and Ellen Thesleff’, 35−37, in Hanne Selkokari (ed.), Magnus Enckell 1870−1925. Ateneum Publications Vol. 141. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, 2020.

[3] Enckell is known to have destroyed works that he was unhappy with in the 1890s in particular. Jaakko Puokka. Magnus Enckell: Ihminen ja taiteilija. Helsinki: Suomalainen tiedeakatemia & Otava, 1949, 83; Salme Sarajas-Korte. Suomen varhaissymbolismi ja sen lähteet. Helsinki: Kustannusosakeyhtiö Otava, 1966, 197.

[4] See the new Illustrated Catalogue compiled for the Magnus Enckell exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum, 23 October 2020 to 14 February 2021, https://research.fng.fi/2021/01/23/magnus-enckell-illustrated-catalogue.

Featured image: Magnus Enckell, Death’s Walk, 1896, watercolour and pencil on paper, 50.5cm x 67.5cm, Ahlström Collection, 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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