Gösta Diehl, Bombed Village, 1950, oil on canvas, 190cm x 260cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Janne Tuominen

Encounters between Art, Humanity and the Modern

Riitta Ojanperä, PhD, Director, Collections Management, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

Also published in Anu Utriainen (ed.), Urban Encounters. Finnish Art in the Twentieth Century. Ateneum Publications Vol. 105. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum 2018, 10–30. Transl. Mike Garner

Without the concepts of modernity, modernism and modernisation, it would be hard to talk about the arts of the 20th century and about their relationship with the reality of their own time. Modernisation, as a societal and social phenomenon from the first decades of the 19th century onwards, meant rapid technological development, industrialisation and urbanisation. As the means of livelihood and the norms regulating communities changed, individual people’s lives and living environments changed, too. Art also changed and particularly rapidly in the early years of the 20th century, when the old societal structures of western countries with monarchies were creaking at the seams.[1]

From the 19th century onwards one of the major ideological and political shifts in European modernisation was the strengthening of the ideal of the nation and the founding of nation states. Technological development went hand in hand with innovations in the sciences and created the potential for unprecedented economic growth. The spiritual and practical ascendancy of ecclesiastical institutions was called into question and rational information offered itself as a basis for modern world views. Individuals appeared to have a new potential to shape their own lives and surroundings through education and new channels of social influence. The option of calling into question and breaking down trade, class and gender boundaries that predetermined people’s lives, if and when they were experienced as a threat to self-determination, has contributed to the modern conception of what it is to be human.

[1] See Hobsbawm, Eric. Äärimmäisyyksien aika. Lyhyt 1900-luku (19141991). Tampere: Osuuskunta Vastapaino 1999 [original English The Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914–1991, 1994]. In his brief history of the 20th century Hobsbawm ties the modern and especially the history of avant-garde art into being a fixed part of the century’s historical development.

Featured image: Gösta Diehl, Bombed Village, 1950, oil on canvas, 190cm x 260cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Janne Tuominen

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Helena Pylkkänen, Masculine / Recumbent Torso, 1986–87, bronze, 68cm x 42cm x 36cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

The Nude Stripped of Dignity

Anu Utriainen, MA, Senior Researcher, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki

Also published in Anu Utriainen (ed.), Urban Encounters. Finnish Art in the Twentieth Century. Ateneum Publications Vol. 105. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum 2018, 138–66. Transl. Don McCracken

The nude body has appeared in visual art and culture in myriad ways and styles; it has been interpreted from different starting points throughout history and imbued with various meanings. The nude has reflected transitions, both within the arts and in broader historical, political and social contexts, and it reveals changes in the concepts of beauty, morality, and attitudes towards gender. As an art object, the nude exposes the model’s surface and depth: especially in the modern age, the nude is an image of both the human form and the psyche.

It is worth asking why and for whom the nude image has been created, and in what context it should be viewed and interpreted. The classic male nude is presented in Western art as a heroic, universal subject, or a mythological deity.[1] The body of a naked man has also been perceived as a sensuous object, but it is not automatically regarded as an object of sexual desire, despite its virility and masculinity. A traditional male nude was portrayed as self-motivated, actively shaping his own world, while women found themselves subject to a demeaning erotic gaze, stripped not only of clothing, but also of their power and autonomy. Masculinity symbolises both vitality and a well-developed mental and intellectual capacity. In contrast to his female counterpart, the male nude embodies a potent mix of power, control and agency, and the gaze appears to be directed outwards from the work of art towards the spectator, rather than the other way around.[2]

[1] See Natter, Tobias G. & Leopold, Elisabeth (eds). Nude Men: From 1800 to the Present Day. Exhibition catalogue, Leopold Museum, Vienna 19.10.201228.1.2013. Munich: Hirmer 2012.

[2] E.g. Solomon-Godeau, Abigail. Male Trouble: A Crisis in Representation. London: Thames & Hudson 1997, 33–35. In Finland, Marja-Terttu Kivirinta has addressed Modernism and modernisation in her dissertation, e.g. through the concept of biopower, cf. Kivirinta. Vieraita vaikutteita karsimassa. Helene Schjerfbeck ja Juho Rissanen. Sukupuoli, luokka ja Suomen taiteen rakentuminen 1910–20-luvulla. Helsinki: University of Helsinki 2014.

Featured image: Helena Pylkkänen, Masculine / Recumbent Torso, 1986–87, bronze, 68cm x 42cm x 36cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

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Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Lemminkäinen's Mother, 1897, tempera on canvas, 85.5cm x 108.5 cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Akseli Gallen-Kallela: Beyond a National Icon

Interview by Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

As a new book on Akseli Gallen-Kallela is published, its author Dr. Marja Lahelma, describes the challenges of finding fresh interpretations of an artist who earned his reputation as a national hero in his home country

When Marja Lahelma’s book on Hugo Simberg was published last year as part of the Artists of the Ateneum series, it enjoyed such a positive reception that she was asked by the then Director of Ateneum Art Museum Susanna Petterson to write another book – this time on the great national hero of Finland’s Golden Age painters, Akseli Gallen-Kallela. This series of books initiated by the Finnish National Gallery aims to shed new light on the classics of Finnish art. For Lahelma, researching this second book presented different kinds of challenges to the one she wrote on Simberg.

The first challenge was a practical one: whereas with Simberg she had been able to comb through almost all of the material available relating to him during her research period, with Gallen-Kallela there was an overwhelming wealth of source material, and she had just eight months to produce her manuscript. This time frame meant that Lahelma would need to be selective with the materials she used and that selection process would need to be driven by a strong thematic approach.

The second challenge – and by far the greater of the two – was for Lahelma to find a way to look beyond the prevailing views and interpretations of an artist who, in terms of Finnish culture, achieved an iconic status, not only within Finnish art history but within Finnish society as a whole. Here was a man, credited as a national hero, whose art was a touchstone of Finland’s quest for its independent nationhood through the depiction of a national landscape and through an exploration of the mythic dimension of Finnishness in his narrative paintings of the epic poem The Kalevala. A man whose funeral in 1931 was attended by the great and the good of the country, and where ‘vast crowds lined the streets of Helsinki to pay their respects to an artist whose work had become the shared heritage of the entire Finnish nation’.[1]

[1] Susanna Pettersson, ‘Vision, Curiosity, and Thirst for Adventure (Introduction).’ In Artists of the Ateneum: Akseli Gallen-Kallela, by Marja Lahelma. Ateneum Publications Vol. 110. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, 2018, 6.

Featured image: Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Lemminkäinen’s Mother, 1897, tempera on canvas, 85.5cm x 108.5 cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

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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Reija Meriläinen, Survivor, 2017, videogame Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Screen capture of the online artwork

Data Salvage – Preserving Software-based Artworks in the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma

Maija Grönqvist, MA student, University of Helsinki

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

How to preserve process, context, and instability? Software-based art requires a certain amount of institutional rethinking in terms of collecting and preservation. Museums, entrusted with the task of preserving and re-exhibiting their collected artworks even in the most distant future, are battling with a new set of problems related to software-based art. The underlying challenge is that the artworks – often manifested as everything but objects – are created on technologically evolving platforms. As a result, theoretical models and practical strategies linked to software-based artworks are inevitably bound to change.[1]

Preserving software-based artworks is challenging yet vital, as they not only represent the artists’ ideas and concepts, but also the technological possibilities and the complex communication landscape of our time.[2] Long before the official recognition of the digital revolution, artists were already experimenting with the novel possibilities of new media. The first wave of digital art was exhibited mainly at technology conferences or digital media festivals. Towards the end of the last century, however, new media art, the art form that used to be considered ‘peripheral to the mainstream art world’[3], became an established genre and finally a welcome addition to galleries and museums. This expansion occurred globally in the 1990s, following the unforeseen affordability and user-friendliness of projectors and personal computers.[4]

[1] Paul 2015, 87; Fino-Radin 2011, 6.

[2] LIMA 2016.

[3] Paul 2003, 7.

[4] Paul 2003, 7; London 2014, xviii; Lialina 2010, 38–39.

Featured image: Reija Meriläinen, Survivor, 2017, video game
Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Screen capture of the online artwork

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Nineteenth and 20thcentury plaster portraits from the Finnish National Gallery Collections displayed in the exhibition ‘I am not I – Famous and Forgotten Portraits’ at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Helsinki, in 2017 Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Riitta Ojanperä Issue No. 4/2018

Connecting Museum Collections with the Rest of the World

Interview by Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

As the Finnish National Gallery prepares to launch a new integrated website for its collections, artworks, objects and archival material, Gill Crabbe asks the key people behind the project about the implications for researchers and other users

The days when an art historian’s first port of call in accessing an art museum’s materials would be to walk through its doors and spend hours leafing through indexes, letters and artefacts, are fast disappearing. In today’s globalised, digitised world, the research community expects rapid accessibility, through interactive channels, both online and via social media. In fact one might even posit the question to the art research community, does an object exist if it is not available online? For institutions like art museums these issues present a huge challenge, simply because the vast volume of objects and related material they hold in their archives and collections means that a gargantuan effort is involved in transforming even a selected part of it into digital material.

The Finnish National Gallery’s recent release of more than 12,000 images of copyright-free artworks into the public domain as open-data has not only opened up the dissemination of its art collections internationally but also goes hand in hand with a much larger development of its entire collections management system that will see all of the collections – artworks, objects and archive collections – brought into a single database for the first time. This new updated database will feed into the FNG’s new collections online web pages to be launched next year. At present there are several ways to access various parts of the FNG collections and improving their online availability is a pivotal way to enhance research related to them.

Featured image: Artworks need metadata to support research into them. Nineteenth and 20th-century plaster portraits from the Finnish National Gallery Collections displayed in the exhibition ‘I am not I – Famous and Forgotten Portraits’ at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Helsinki, in 2017
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Riitta Ojanperä

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Magnus von Wright, Crack Willows on the Waterfront, from Samling af Etuder för Landskaps, Djur och Blomstertecknare, 1839–40, lithograph, 25cm x 32cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Tero Suvilammi

The von Wright Brothers as Lithographic Artists

Erkki Anttonen, PhD, Senior Researcher, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki

Also published in Erkki Anttonen & Anne-Maria Pennonen (eds.), The von Wright Brothers – Art, Science and Life. Ateneum Publications Vol. 99. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum 2017, 73–91. Transl. Wif Stenger

The beginning of the history of Finnish lithographic art can be traced back to an entry by artist Magnus von Wright (1805–1868) in his diary from 8 March 1827, where he discusses trying his hand at drawing on stone for the first time while in Stockholm: ‘For the first time I drew on stone. – It was a pencil drawing.’[1]

At the time, lithography was still a new and revolutionary technique. It spread rapidly in the early 19th century, being employed widely for graphic work that required mass production, such as advertising posters, labels, postcards, maps, scientific illustrations, information communication, and in printing. The technique was an instant success in fine art printmaking too. The method had been developed between 1796 and 1798 by Alois Senefelder (1771–1834), an actor and playwright who was born in Prague but who worked in the early years of his career in Bavaria, mostly in Munich.

Lithography is a planographic printing method in which a design is drawn on the smooth surface of a stone block with a greasy crayon, or a sharp pen, or by applying an oily ink wash. Because oil and water repel each other, areas drawn with a greasy medium accept an oil-based printing ink, while the bare, wet surface repels it. The heyday of lithography was the latter half of the 19th and early part of the 20th century. Lithographic print shops were established all over the world, largely by publishers. It was not until the Second World War that the faster and more efficient offset method put an end to the last of the lithographic print houses in Finland.[2]

[1] Wright, Magnus von, 1996, Dagbok 1824–1834. Eds. Anto Leikola, Juhani Lokki, Torsten Stjernberg & Johan Ulfvens. Skrifter utgivna av Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland, nr 600:1. Konstnärsbröderna von Wrights dagböcker 1. Helsingfors: Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland, 8 March 1827 (58). The first lithographs of Finland were published 1823–24, when 15 large landscape washes depicting views from southern Finland by Carl von Kügelgen (1772–1832), an artist working in Russia, were printed as lithographs and published by Peter Friedrich Helmersen in St. Petersburg.

[2] For more on the subject, see, e.g., Johannesson, Lena, 1978. Den massproducerade bilden. Ur bildindustrialismens historia. Stockholm: AWE/Geber, 18–24.

Featured image: Magnus von Wright, Crack Willows on the Waterfront, from Samling af Etuder för Landskaps, Djur och Blomstertecknare, 1839–40, lithograph, 25cm x 32cm
Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Tero Suvilammi

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Ferdinand von Wright to Elise Heintzie, Haminalahti on 225 Jan, no year. Collection of Artists’ Letters. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

Ferdinand von Wright, Letter-writer

Hanna-Leena Paloposki, PhD, Chief curator, Archive and Library Manager, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

Also published in Erkki Anttonen & Anne-Maria Pennonen (eds.), The von Wright Brothers – Art, Science and Life. Ateneum Publications Vol. 99. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum 2017, 159–65. Transl. Wif Stenger

The Finnish National Gallery’s archive collections include correspondence and other documents from artists Magnus, Wilhelm and Ferdinand von Wright. They are part of the collection of artists’ letters that is made up of artists’ documents both bought for and donated to the Finnish Art Society. The first batch of the brothers’ letters was acquired for the collections in 1890–91.

In this article I focus on letters written by the youngest of the brothers, Ferdinand (1822–1906), of which there are 104 in the collection. They provide a background to his art and help contemporary readers to approach him as both an artist and as a person. For von Wright, who lived far from the Finnish capital, letter-writing was the most important method of maintaining contacts. Letters have always been important source materials for historians. The chronological distance from the writing of the texts imposes an interpretational challenge, but, on the other hand, letters are generally written in order to overcome and withstand chronological and geographical gaps.[1] Source material is almost always a random selection, as not all documents are generally preserved.[2]

[1] Hyttinen, Elsi & Kivilaakso, Katri, 2010. Johdanto. Lukemattomat sivut. Kirjallisuuden arkistot käytössä. Eds. Elsa Hyttinen ja Katri Kivilaakso. Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seuran Toimituksia 930. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 9.

[2] Researchers choose details of correspondence that are relevant to their own fields, leaving behind information that is irrelevant to their research and which no-one may ever make use of, or which may remain uninterpreted because of inadequate information. An example of this kind of irrelevant detail is that Ferdinand von Wright did not care for women wearing hairstyles with fringes, considering them a form of vanity. This was revealed when B. O. Schauman sent him photographs of well-known women, including an image of the internationally-successful Finnish opera singer Alma Fohrström (fan photos of the day). See Ferdinand von Wright to B. O. Schauman, Haminalahti 19 May 1887 and 14 June 1887. Collection of artists’ letters. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery (= CAL, FNG). Why did Schauman send these pictures? Was it two elderly bachelors sharing their distant admiration for women?

Featured image: A letter from Ferdinand von Wright to Elise Heintzie, Haminalahti, dated 25 January, year not given, page 1. Collection of Artists’ Letters. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

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