Teemu Mäenpää, Aimless, 2013, ink and acrylic on canvas, 121cm x 105.4cm x 2.1cm The Seppo Fränti Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Kirsi Halkola

When a Passionate Collector Meets a Museum

Saara Hacklin, PhD, Curator and Kati Kivinen, PhD, Chief Curator, Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma

Also published in Saara Hacklin and Kati Kivinen (eds.), Hullu rakkaus / Galen kärlek / Mad Love. The Seppo Fränti Collection at Kiasma. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 170/2020. Helsinki: PARVS, 2020. Transl. Eva Malkki

The curators’ look at the Seppo Fränti Collection

In 2017, Christmas came early for Kiasma. The museum received an extraordinary donation from the Helsinki-based collector and art-lover Seppo Fränti. The donation was preceded by a long dialogue between the collector and the museum’s director Leevi Haapala, and the final seal was placed on the agreement just before Christmas.

For nearly four decades, Fränti has been collecting mostly Finnish visual artists. The main emphasis of his collection, which comprises around 650 works, is on Finnish paintings. As art historian Juha-Heikki Tihinen has said, ‘as a collector, Fränti is a patron who reacts quickly and relies on his gut feeling’.[1] Fränti wants to become friends with the people behind the artworks because, for him, collecting is a passion and a way of life. In recent years, this passion filled up his home.

Generally speaking, Fränti’s collection is a grand gift for the Finnish National Gallery; at the same time, it hides behind it a large amount of work. The museum dived into the project through the processes of transportation, examination, documentation, maintenance, conservation, and restoration. This article looks at the reception of the Fränti Collection at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. It considers how the character of this private collection might have altered when it became a part of a large public contemporary art collection, and describes the process that the works underwent on arrival and during exhibition planning.

[1] Tihinen, Juha-Heikki, 2016. Häpeämättömästi taiteen puolesta – Seppo Fräntin kokoelma. Helsinki: Lapinlahden Lähde project & Mental Health Finland, 9.

Featured image: Teemu Mäenpää, Aimless, 2013, ink and acrylic on canvas, 121cm x 105.4cm x 2.1cm, The Seppo Fränti Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Kirsi Halkola

Read more — Download ‘When a Passionate Collector Meets a Museum’, by Saara Hacklin and Kati Kivinen, as a PDF

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The interior of Seppo Fränti’s apartment, 23 February 2018 Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Moomin-like Joy and the Seppo Fränti Art Collection

Juha-Heikki Tihinen, PhD, Art Historian

Also published in Saara Hacklin and Kati Kivinen (eds.), Hullu rakkaus / Galen kärlek / Mad Love. The Seppo Fränti Collection at Kiasma. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 170/2020. Helsinki: PARVS, 2020. Transl. Eva Malkki

‘Suddenly he felt so happy that he had to be alone. He strolled off towards the woodshed. And when nobody could see him any longer he broke into a run. He ran through the melting snow, with the sun warming his back. He ran simply because he was happy, with nothing at all to think about.’[1]

Art collections and the act of collecting often bear a significant emotional content, for with the collection the collector builds their own little cosmos, through which they can express intense feelings. In 2016, the art collector Seppo Fränti described the emotions he felt in his home when surrounded in every direction by art: ‘It is wonderful; I am like the Moomintroll, imbibing a Moomin-like atmosphere. I love to be surrounded by all this. Sometimes I might shriek a bit like Little My if I feel like it.’[2] This quote can best be understood by looking at pictures of Fränti’s home when it had been taken over by art and one could only move along narrow corridors between artworks. The collector’s home was literally covered in art, which took up every surface. The apartment was somewhat reminiscent of the Merzbau, a sculptural structure by German artist Kurt Schwitters (1887–1948) that filled five of the eight rooms in the artist’s home in Hannover and grew organically as Schwitters picked up objects and materials around the city to add to the installation. Seppo Fränti’s collection started off as pictures hung on walls but later grew organically to fill the whole space.

Fränti’s collection is fascinating because it presents a compilation of the art he has chosen according to his preferences and that he experienced as being significant. The collection donated to Kiasma comprises some 650 works[3], the earliest of which Fränti acquired at the end of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s.[4] The collection is not intended as an all-encompassing historical portrayal of the art of the period; instead, it is an experiential interpretation of some of the phenomena in contemporary art. The central aspects of the Fränti Collection are a fascination with contemporary art and the collector’s personal relationship with almost all of the artists. The Seppo Fränti Collection is not homogeneous; in fact, it is startlingly heterogeneous and it is not always easy for an outsider to follow the collector’s logic.

[1] Jansson, Tove, 1988. Taikatalvi. Translated into Finnish by Laila Järvinen. Helsinki: WSOY, 132. Excerpt in English from Moominland Midwinter, transl. Thomas Warburton.

[2] Tihinen, Juha-Heikki, 2016. Häpeämättömästi taiteen puolesta – Seppo Fräntin kokoelma. Helsinki: The Lapinlahden Lähde Project & Mental Health Finland, 20.

[3] The collection’s growth rate has been startling, as at the time of the first exhibition in Lapinlahden Lähde in 2016, the collection as a whole comprised around 500 works.

[4] Tihinen, Häpeämättömästi taiteen puolesta, 11.

Featured image: The interior of Seppo Fränti’s apartment, 23 February 2018
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

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Hugo Simberg, Fantasy, 1896, watercolour and gold on paper, 16cm x 15cm, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

European Revivals in 2020 and beyond

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

Following the recent concluding conference of the Finnish National Gallery’s European Revivals research project, Gill Crabbe asks its keynote speakers, art historians Professor Murdo Macdonald and Professor Patricia Berman, to assess the impact of the ten-year initiative as they look to the future

In 2009, when the Finnish National Gallery initiated its European Revivals research project the main aim was to examine the phenomena surrounding European national revivals from a more wide-scale international perspective. This included looking for parallel processes and similarities in the cultural constructions of nationhood within the European region, at a time when national art-historical discourses had emphasised a specific local uniqueness of each cultural revivalist narrative. As one of the prime movers in the Project, Director of Collections Management at the FNG Riitta Ojanperä, pointed out: ‘We didn’t want to name the project “National Revivals” but rather “European Revivals” to emphasise the transnational aspect.’ The FNG thus set out to generate a series of international conferences organised by both themselves and by institutions in other countries, that would bring together both museum and academic scholarship, fostering and broadening international networks, stimulating and publishing new research, inspiring affiliated exhibitions, and encouraging a reassessment of existing art-historical narratives.

Ten years on, and six international conferences, scores of published papers and a number of exhibitions later, the scope of European revivals has evolved substantially, as could be seen in the wide-ranging presentations at the concluding conference organised by the Finnish National Gallery in January 2020 at the Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki. During this period, the cultural revivalist discourse in art and art history has been re-examined and recontextualised, so that even the concept of a Golden Age in the long 19th century has come under scrutiny. As Patricia Berman, Theodora L. and Stanley H. Feldberg Professor of Art, Wellesley College, Massachussetts, noted in her keynote speech at the conference: ‘The idea of a Golden Age is always equivocal. When pictured in paint, it’s a perfect past in the midst of a tense present. That perfect past, in European Golden Ages was almost always an ethnic discourse, erasing or marginalising certain populations. What we increasingly and collectively see is how profoundly shaped by stereotypes our discipline has been and how to shape the tools to defuse and move beyond them.’

Indeed, in the collection of peer-reviewed papers by those who had contributed over the years which was published by the FNG to coincide with the 2020 conference, Riitta Ojanperä and Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, Chief Curator at the Ateneum Art Museum, who were both initiators of the project, wrote: ‘The issue of cultural revivals, whether national, universal or local, is far more wide-reaching, multidimensional and complex than we could possibly have imagined at the beginning of this journey.’ It is a journey that has centred around a series of conferences that has taken those involved on a round trip from Helsinki to Oslo, Krakow, Edinburgh and back to Helsinki, with institutions from these cities hosting them in an impressive example of international collaboration. Themes ranged from ‘Myths, Legends and Dreams of a Nation’ (2009) to ‘Artists’ Colonies and Nature’ (2015), ‘Aesthetic Values in the National Context’ (2014), ‘Modern Identities’ (2012) and ‘Cultural Mythologies around 1900’ (2017).

Featured image: Hugo Simberg, Fantasy, 1896, watercolour and gold on paper, 16cm x 15cm, 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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Hjalmar Munsterhjelm, Brook (a copy after Johann Wilhelm Schirmer’s Parthie an der Düsselmit Pestwurz), undated, 48.5cm x 55.5cm. Gösta and Bertha Stenman Donation, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Kirsi Halkola

Lectio Praecursoria: In Search of Scientific and Artistic Landscape

An Introductory Lecture at the Public Examination of Anne-Maria Pennonen’s Dissertation, In Search of Scientific and Artistic Landscape – Düsseldorf Landscape Painting and Reflections of the Natural Sciences as Seen in the Artworks of Finnish, Norwegian and German Artists, University of Helsinki, 21 February 2020  

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

Opponent Prof Bettina Gockel, University of Zürich, Custos Prof Ville Lukkarinen, University of Helsinki

Landscape painting is a rather new phenomenon in Finland. Apart from a few examples from preceding centuries, it started to develop properly only in the course of the 19th century. In its early stage, landscape graphics and illustrated travelogues played an important role. Moreover, Düsseldorf had a great influence on how artists’ interests – and later the public interest – were directed towards landscape painting.

In Finland and Sweden, the public gaze was focused on Düsseldorf as a result of the ‘Nordic Art Exhibition’, which took place at the Royal Academy in Stockholm in 1850. The exhibition presented works by artists who had studied or were working in Düsseldorf, and it was the landscapes by the Norwegian artists, Hans Gude and August Cappelen, that attracted the most attention. Inspired by the exhibition, Werner Holmberg became the first prominent Finnish artist to travel to Düsseldorf to study landscape painting, in the summer of 1853. Victoria Åberg, Magnus von Wright and Fanny Churberg were among others who travelled to Düsseldorf following Holmberg’s lead.

As for the role of the Art Academy in Düsseldorf, it was actually the work of individual artists and their activities outside the Kunstakademie that built up the city’s reputation in landscape painting. One of these was Johann Wilhelm Schirmer, who is regarded as the founder and pioneer of the landscape painting of the Düsseldorf School. At the beginning of his career, Schirmer was nominated to teach the landscape painting class in 1830, and later he continued as a professor. In Düsseldorf, Schirmer had a great impact on the activities outside the Kunstakademie, and he introduced a new approach to landscape, according to which it was essential to look at the landscape in a ‘proper fashion’, and expressions like ‘the new naturalism’ and ‘the truth of nature’ were widely used. As a part of Schirmer’s teaching practice, it was essential to study landscape in the open air, and accordingly compose sketches and studies from nature – only from nature. Schirmer’s ideas and teachings were conveyed to Finnish and Norwegian artists by the Norwegian artist Hans Gude.

Featured image: Hjalmar Munsterhjelm, Brook (a copy after Johann Wilhelm Schirmer’s Parthie an der Düsselmit Pestwurz), undated, 48.5cm x 55.5cm, Gösta and Bertha Stenman Donation, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Kirsi Halkola
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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Joseph Alanen, Lemminkäinen and the Cowherd, 1919–20, tempera on canvas, 50cm x 64cm. Collection Maine Wartiovaara née Alanen, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

Editorial: European Revivals Ten Years On

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

 

20 January 2020

 

Dear Readers,

As we enter a new decade, the FNG Research magazine is proud to launch a special collection of art-historical articles under the title European Revivals. From Dreams of a Nation to Places of Transnational Exchange. Released to coincide with an international conference this month, this publication marks the culmination of the ‘European Revivals’ research project and its accompanying series of six international conferences inaugurated in Helsinki in 2009 with subsequent conferences held also in Oslo, Krakow and Edinburgh.

On this occasion the Finnish National Gallery extends its warmest thanks to all those individuals and organisations who have taken part in and committed to realising the vision for the ‘European Revivals’ project and its research publication. Working together with our colleagues and international collaborators on both an intellectual and a practical level has been most interesting and inspiring.

The reason behind the project was to stimulate debate and reflect upon the phenomena surrounding European national revivals by bringing together and analysing the multifarious connections and correspondences that have helped to shape the identities of modern European nations. In 2009, the question of national revivalist discourses in art and art-historical research was a topical subject at the Finnish National Gallery, which had just opened a comprehensive exhibition of Finnish art based on motifs from The Kalevala past and present.

Towards the end of the 19th century, European artists began to express a new and profound interest in their unique local pasts and cultural inheritances. This growing sense of national identity prompted a major flowering of debate concerning the rapidly disappearing regional cultures throughout Europe. This was a debate that was largely shaped by the desire within several countries for cultural and artistic, and ultimately social and economic, independence. It resulted in creating new art that sought modern interpretations and links with local roots. It also resulted in art-historical and cultural historical narratives in which the uniqueness of the narratives of national or local histories were emphasised.

It was clear that art-historical scholarship on the subject had been broadly established, but the ‘European Revivals’ project aimed to examine parallel phenomena from a more wide-scale international perspective. Our key interest was to look at the similarities of these narratives, rather than their differences. In the course of the project, this approach turned out to raise lively interest among art historians in both museums and across academia.

From the outset, the project aimed to work towards producing a scientific publication which would cover the most interesting topics to have emerged over the ten years of its activities. We therefore invited several scholars who had participated in European Revivals conferences to submit articles for this publication. These peer-reviewed articles have been developed from the original papers given between 2009 and 2017.

As well as publishing research articles and other information concerning the Finnish National Gallery’s research activities, we are continuing to develop our research intern programme. Each year, we recruit for a period of three months up to three, master’s-level art history students to study a chosen topic arising from material in our research archives. The aim is to publish an article based on their research process, supported and tutored by our in-house professionals.

From the applications received last year, two research interns for 2020 have been selected. Karita Kivikoski, from the University of Helsinki, is studying the artist Leena Luostarinen and her artistic output during the 1980s–90s from the point of view of the reception of her works and discourse analysis. She will be researching press clippings, interviews and exhibition catalogues related to Luostarinen and her art works in the collection of the Finnish National Gallery. Olga Korka, from the Imperial Academy of Arts in St Petersburg, is studying Ilya Repin’s years in Finland and the Finnish-Russian cultural relations based on Repin-related archival material and Repin’s art works in the collections of the Finnish National Gallery.

The call for research interns for 2021 will be launched in autumn 2020. During this year, the FNG Research magazine will be published every second month, continuing its in-depth exploration of the research interests behind the Finnish National Gallery’s three museums’ exhibition programmes. We also invite scholars to submit articles that are linked with or relevant to our extensive collections.

Wishing you all a most inspiring new decade,

Dr Riitta Ojanperä

Featured image: Joseph Alanen, Lemminkäinen and the Cowherd, 1919–20, tempera on canvas, 50cm x 64cm. Collection Maine Wartiovaara née Alanen, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

Cover of the print version of European Revivals - From Dreams of a Nation to Places of Transnational Exchange, depicting the illustration by Akseli Gallen-Kallela for the novel, Seven Brothers, by Aleksis Kivi, 1907, watercolour and pencil, 23.5cm x 31.5cm. Ahlström Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

European Revivals – From Dreams of a Nation to Places of Transnational Exchange

Table of Contents

Foreword

Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff and Riitta Ojanperä
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Visions of Identity, Dreams of a Nation

  • Ossian, Kalevala and Visual Art: a Scottish Perspective
    Murdo Macdonald
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  • Nationality and ­Community in ­Norwegian Art Criticism around 1900
    Tore Kirkholt
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  • Celticism, ­Internationalism and Scottish Identity: Three Key Images in Focus
    Frances Fowle
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  • Listening to the Voices: Joan of Arc as a ­Spirit-Medium in the Celtic Revival
    Michelle Foot
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Artists’ Places, Location and Meaning

  • Inventing Folk Art: ­Artists’ Colonies in ­Eastern ­Europe and their Legacy
    Marina Dmitrieva
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  • The Vernacular Revival in the Polish Tatras c. 1900: Arts, Patronage, ­Collecting and  Documentation
    Edyta Barucka
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  • Önningeby and Skagen: ­Investigating Two Artists’ ­Colonies with Social Network Analysis
    Anna-Maria Wiljanen
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  • Constructing ­Mythologies of the Germanen in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-­century Germany
    Iain Boyd Whyte
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Concepts for Revival Movement

  • From Nostalgia to Where…? National Romanticism, Esotericism, and the ‘Golden Age of Finnish Art’
    Marja Lahelma
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  • The Artist’s House: ­Symbolism and Utopia
    Laura Gutman
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  • Visions of History: ­Gerhard Munthe’s Rhythm and Revival in fin-de-siècle Norway
    Tonje H. Sørensen
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  • Craft, Ornament and its Meaning in Finnish ­Architecture around 1900
    Charlotte Ashby
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  • Encounters between Art and Folk Art around 1900 in Norway: Gerhard Munthe, Theodor ­Kittelsen and ­Frida Hansen
    Vibeke Waallann Hansen
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Featured image: Cover of the print version of European Revivals – From Dreams of a Nation to Places of Transnational Exchange. On the cover: Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Illustration for the novel, Seven Brothers, by Aleksis Kivi, 1907, watercolour and pencil, 23.5cm x 31.5cm. Ahlström Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

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Helene Schjerfbeck, Landscape from St Ives, Barnoon Villa, 1887, ink on paper, 11.5cm x 18cm- Friends of Ateneum Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

Editorial: Support Strategies

Marja Sakari, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery, Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki

 

27 November 2019

 

When I first read the articles for this edition of FNG Research, I did not think there was any particular connection between them. The articles covered curatorial issues, a doctoral thesis on Helene Schjerfbeck’s self-portraits, and a conference paper on the theme of the subjectile and the play between immateriality and materiality. However, a closer look reveals that, in fact, they all have quite a lot in common. Ari Tanhuanpää’s article is based on his contribution for this autumn’s Tahiti 8 conference and is titled ‘All the Leaves in the World: the Subjectile as a Problem’. Tanhuanpää claims in his article that paper, or indeed any other support in an artwork, is something that oscillates between materiality and immateriality.

In the same way, I suppose, curatorial work is the invisible or immaterial aspect that constitutes a support for the artworks to be displayed in an exhibition. The public won’t necessarily notice the curatorial decisions but these play an important part in the narrative of the exhibition. The curatorial underpinnings make visible some issues and ideas, whereas others might remain obscured.

In an exhibition display, the entire design can be thought as the subjectile. The colours of the walls, and the arrangement and juxtaposition of the artworks are there to emphasise meaning. But for the audience the support remains ‘immaterial’ in the same sense that in Tanhuanpää’s article Susanne Gottberg’s plywood support stays quasi-unseen and immaterial as the background for her images.

I am writing this editorial in Paris, having visited many exhibitions here and also in London. The context gives meaning. For example, today we look very differently at the portraits by Gauguin, following the #Metoo debate, as we also look differently at the ‘Pre-Raphaelite Sisters’ exhibition in the context of the current discoveries about women in art. Then again, even when an exhibition is mounted within a ‘white cube’ context, with its neutral background, as was the case in the 1950s, it has significance, as Mariliis Rebane points out in her article revisiting the Collection Display at the Ateneum Art Museum in 1959. The white cube underlines the modernist idea of artworks being something by themselves. Any kind of stories would just disturb the purity of painting.

The modernist purity of painting is disrupted in Helene Schjerfbeck’s self-portraits, as Patrik Nyberg discusses in the interview with Marja Lahelma and Gill Crabbe. In his doctoral thesis, Painted Faces: the Self-Portraits of Helene Schjerfbeck, Modernism and Representation, Nyberg argues that the idea within modernism, that a painting should not interact with the viewer but be its autonomous self, is interrupted in Schjerfbeck’s self-portraits. I also link Nyberg’s ideas on Schjerfbeck’s painting to the discussion of the immaterial and material support for painting. She was actually using the support of the canvas as an essential part of the painting by scratching paint away, having first covered the canvas with it.

This issue of FNG Research is published to coincide with the Helene Schjerfbeck exhibition that has travelled from London to the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki. Almost all of the works that were shown in the London exhibition are also on display in the Helsinki show. Yet these two exhibitions are nevertheless very different. This becomes evident in Gill Crabbe’s interview with Chief Curator of the Ateneum Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, who was a key player in the curation of the Helene Schjerfbeck exhibitions in both London and Helsinki. The Helsinki version is different because, in addition, it contains many works that were not shown in London. But the essential difference is more on a conceptual level. As the article states: ‘While the London exhibition was very much an introduction to Schjerfbeck’s work, based on in-depth research covering her entire career, and giving centre stage to the artist’s remarkable body of self-portraits, the Helsinki show required a different treatment for an artist who is a household name in Finland and who is regarded as a national treasure.’

The research projects continue, and the next issue of FNG Research will concentrate on the results of the European Revivals research project. The Finnish National Gallery is also organising the project’s concluding conference in January 2020. Registration is now open – visit https://fngresearch.files.wordpress.com/2019/11/european_revivals_programme.pdf for the conference programme and how to register..

Featured image: Helene Schjerfbeck, Landscape from St Ives, Barnoon Villa, 1887, ink on paper, 11.5cm x 18cm- Friends of Ateneum Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

Featured image: Helene Schjerfbeck, Cypresses, Fiesole, 1894, oil on canvas, 43.5cm x 62.5cm, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Beyond Borders

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

The Helene Schjerfbeck exhibitions in London and Helsinki are a result of extensive international collaboration between the researchers, curators and the two institutions involved. Chief Curator of the Ateneum Art Museum Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff discusses the research processes, preparations and the themes that emerged for the two shows with Gill Crabbe

In 2018, when the Chief Curator of the Ateneum Art Museum Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff travelled to the UK to undertake new research in preparation for the Helene Schjerfbeck exhibition at London’s Royal Academy of Arts, she was keen to visit St Ives in Cornwall, as Schjerfbeck had done in the 1880s. Among other things von Bonsdorff hoped to find out whether any of the works known to have been sold in England, but whose whereabouts were currently unknown, might come to light.

‘This is the period in Schjerfbeck’s career that we don’t know so much about,’ she explains, ‘so it was a great opportunity to collaborate with the Royal Academy’s curator, Desiree de Chair, and really get to know more about the artist’s time in St Ives.’ Von Bonsdorff in fact spent two months in the UK alongside her counterparts at the RA, as part of her research for the exhibition, which has now travelled back to Finland to be presented in an expanded version at the Ateneum Art Museum. She was enabled by an innovative and generous professional development scheme in which the Finnish National Gallery provides opportunities for staff to work for an extended period in a museum or cultural institution abroad. ‘London is a very international scene, so for us it was important to be able to show Helene Schjerfbeck there – and like Jeremy Lewison, who curated the show with us, said, the RA is a perfect place to show Schjerfbeck.’

Von Bonsdorff travelled to Cornwall with Desiree de Chair, who was researching for the essay on the St Ives period for the catalogue. ‘I wanted to find out more about the times when Schjerfbeck was travelling and building her career,’ says von Bonsdorff. ‘We were there in March, at the same time of year that Schjerfbeck was there, to see the places where she was living, drawing and painting. St Ives has this extraordinary luminous light, steep streets and very particular air and atmosphere.’ While there, von Bonsdorff was struck by the primroses in bloom, as Schjerfbeck had used the flower as a motif in The Girl from St Ives (Redhead), from 1890. It is the only painting that the artist signed as being from St Ives, although at least 12 of her known paintings come from her time spent there.

Featured image: Helene Schjerfbeck, Cypresses, Fiesole, 1894, oil on canvas, 43.5cm x 62.5cm, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

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Helene Schjerfbeck, Self-Portrait with Palette I, 1937, tempera and oil on canvas, 44.5cm x 33.5cm Moderna Museet, Statens konstmuseer, Stockholm Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

Helene Schjerfbeck – only an Image?

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

As the Helene Schjerfbeck exhibition opens at the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki, Gill Crabbe discusses the artists self-portraiture with contemporary art curator Patrik Nyberg and art historian Marja Lahelma 

Patrik, you are a curator at the Finnish National Gallerys Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma and you have just published your doctoral thesis on Helene Schjerfbecks self-portraits. How did you become interested in Schjerfbeck?

Patrik Nyberg I have always been interested in art that seems to critique or subvert its own representation, be it in a video, or any contemporary art, or painting from the modernist era or earlier, so I wanted to look at Helene Schjerfbeck’s self-portraits in this light.

Where would you place Helene Schjerfbecks self-portraits in the modernist canon?

PN Well, that’s a question I’m thinking about in my thesis – what is the modernist canon and what kind of painting is defined as modernist painting? I think Schjerfbeck’s self-portraits go beyond the parameters of how modernism is defined by its defenders, such as Clive Bell, Roger Fry and the Greenbergian tradition. These works also question the way that, in the postmodern era, we tend to define painting in the modernist era as self-sustained autonomous art and in favour of an autonomous subject. I think Helene Schjerfbeck’s self-portraits go beyond that idea and are more contemporary in a way.

Marja, you were the opponent for the public defence of Patrik’s doctoral thesis. You have seen the recent Helene Schjerfbeck exhibition at the Royal Academy in London, in which the self-portraits were given a central focus by presenting them chronologically in the room at the heart of the gallery space. What did you make of that kind of presentation – do you think this shows that the self-portraits are the most important of her works?

Marja Lahelma I thought it was quite powerful to walk into that room and as I had already read Patrik’s thesis I was aware of the fact that, although these self-portraits were presented as a chronological sequence, they didn’t really produce a narrative, which I liked. Apart from the early self-portraits, you couldn’t really see a progression that starts from likeness and representation, then going towards abstraction – it doesn’t really work that way with her.

So how did it work?

ML They are all such different kinds of works. In his thesis, Patrik discusses the performative aspect of these works and that became very clear to me in that room. It appeared almost as some kind of a game. I had the impression that Schjerfbeck was really conscious of what she was doing, that there was nothing accidental. I was also aware that these works don’t really say anything about who she was – for example that they reveal the soul – in fact there was nothing of that kind there, it was all about surface. I really liked that.

Featured image: Helene Schjerfbeck, Self-Portrait with Palette I, 1937, tempera and oil on canvas, 44.5cm x 33.5cm
Moderna Museet, Statens konstmuseer, Stockholm
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

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The sculpture room at the Ateneum Art Museum, in 1959. The photograph includes a painting by Ilya Repin and sculptures by Marino Marini, Giacomo Manzù, Ben Renvall, Carl Wilhelms, Felix Nylund, and Wäinö Aaltonen. Photographer unknown. Negative collection. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery

Revisiting the Collection Display at the Ateneum Art Museum in 1959

Mariliis Rebane, MA student, University of Helsinki

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

When the 1952 Olympic Games were organised in Helsinki, the city’s cultural institutions were also preparing themselves for a large number of visitors. The Ateneum Art Museum repainted some of its exhibition galleries, extended its opening hours, hired more staff and ordered new uniforms for the guards. However, the most significant changes were to do with the arrangement of the collection display.[1] Only a few months earlier, on 21 January 1952, Dr Aune Lindström (1901–84) had been appointed temporary Chief Curator – the position equivalent to the museum director’s post – after her predecessor Torsten Stjernschantz had retired.[2] The changes that Lindström initiated in the collection display before the Olympic Games were implemented in full during the following years. The updated display was eventually documented seven years later. The period 1952–59 consequently forms the timeframe of this article.

When looking at the 12 black-and-white photographs[3] by an unknown photographer documenting the Ateneum Art Museum in 1959, I was prompted to revisit the collection display carried out by Lindström. In this article I provide a descriptive overview of the display based on the mentioned images. I also outline the Chief Curator’s initial aspirations in changing the arrangement of the collection. By looking at the images, I aim to reveal whether Lindström’s ambitions were in accord with the eventual collection display. Using the photographic documentation as a source also sets this article apart from the previous studies on the history of the Ateneum Art Museum’s collection display.

[1] Minutes of the Foundation of the Fine Arts Academy of Finland 8 February 1952 § 7, 16 September 1952 § 7. Minutes of the Board and the Representative Council 1952, Minutes of the Board and the Representative Council and School Division Grant Board 1952–1953 (STA / C 11). Archive of the Fine Arts Academy of Finland (AFAAF), Finnish National Gallery (FNG); ‘Ateneumin Taidekokoelmat vuonna 1952’, in Suomen Taideakatemian vuosijulkaisu 1951–1953 (Helsinki: Keskuskirjapaino, 1954), 66; ‘Ateneum valmistautuu olympialaisiin – huomattavia muutoksia kokoelmissa’, Helsingin Sanomat, 21 June 1952; ‘Ateneum olympiakunnossa’, Suomen Sosiaalidemokraatti, 8 July 1952.

[2] Aune Lindström (1901–84) started work at the Ateneum Art Museum in 1928 when she was hired as a part-time Curator to organise the library, archive, and later also the prints and drawings. Aside from being the Curator, Lindström had taught German and English since 1926 and wrote reviews and art introductions for the Press. Lindström  wrote her dissertation on the von Wright brothers, in 1932. Olli Valkonen, ‘Ateneumin taidemuseon intendentit 1869–1990’, in Tuula Arkio and Marjatta Levanto (eds.), Ateneum (Helsinki: Valtion taidemuseo, 1991), 72; Hanna-Leena Paloposki, ‘Lindström, Aune (1901–1984) Ateneumin taidemuseon intendentti, professori’, Kansallisbiografia, published 11 October 2005 (updated July 25, 2016), https://kansallisbiografia.fi/kansallisbiografia/henkilo/1375 (accessed 5 October 2019).

[3] The images belong to Finnish National Gallery’s Picture Collections.

Featured image: The sculpture room at the Ateneum Art Museum, in 1959. The photograph includes a painting by Ilya Repin and sculptures by Marino Marini, Giacomo Manzù, Ben Renvall, Carl Wilhelms, Felix Nylund, and Wäinö Aaltonen. Photographer unknown.
Negative Collection. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery

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