Featured image: Aarre Heinonen, Railway Square, 1945, oil on canvas, 81cm x 60cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

Editorial: Search and Search Again

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


24 January 2019


Last November (29–30.11.2018), the Academy of Fine Arts of the University of the Arts Helsinki, along with the Art History Department of Helsinki University and the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, got together to organise a two-day conference, ‘Connoisseurship in Contemporary Art Research’, which had as its theme the importance of the archival approach in research into contemporary art. One of the highlights was Katharina Günther’s presentation, which was based on the results of her year-long residency at the City Gallery in Dublin. Her research project was concentrating on the material from Francis Bacon’s London studio, which had been transported from London to Dublin in 1998 in the exact same condition as it had been left when Bacon died. She worked with the original material in the studio with a variety of items, from photographs to all kinds of ephemera. Seemingly worthless material transformed, in the hands of the researcher, into authentic evidence. With that material, she was able to prove that despite Bacon’s own observations that art has nothing to do with illustration, most of his artworks were based on everyday media images. The composition, details and figures were often borrowed almost identically from images published in printed media.

For a researcher, material that has previously gone unnoticed, has been abandoned or considered as apparently unimportant might become the very core of the research and a source of new knowledge.

In this first issue of FNG Research in 2019, two researchers are presenting their new findings. Both articles are good examples that show how important it is to study profoundly different archives and to experience original material. For these researchers, archival material and the rereading of the material in connection to previous research, is of utmost importance.

Both Sandra Lindblom – whose article is dealing with the early career of the painter Eva Cederström – and Antonella Perna – who has as her topic the friendship, mutual respect and influence of two scholars of Asian art and culture – base their research on letters, diaries and other archival materials.

Lindblom, whose article is resulting from the research internship at the FNG, writes in her preface: ‘The study reassesses and gives new information about the narrative on Cederström’s early career, using previously unstudied archive material, drawings and paintings.’ In her article she is able to show that Cederström eschewed the label of being a woman artist, but at the same time she was the victim of conventions prevailing pre- and post- Second World War. Despite her talent and passion for art she was obliged take on office work because of lack of money. With the archival material Lindblom shows the contradictions in the start of Cederström’s career. Her early years as an artist contained ‘failures, successes, institutional support and economic problems’. The article points out that despite her being appreciated as a promising artist at an early phase, she couldn’t advance as an artist in the way she would have wanted. Being a woman was significant, it seems.

Antonella Perna writes in her peer-reviewed article how her attention was drawn to the relationship and position of Osvald Sirén in Italian studies of Asian culture by a single letter in the Sirén Archive in Stockholm. According to that letter, Sirén was appointed Doctor Honoris Causa of the University of Rome La Sapienza. To Perna this single letter was not sufficient to explain why this happened and she started to look for other evidence to find out why he was honoured this way. Perna found the evidence in the correspondence of Sirén with the Italian scholar of Asian studies, Giuseppe Tucci. Perna is revealing new knowledge of this relationship. She writes: ‘since there are no previous studies on the relationship with Tucci, I would like to present a first analysis of unpublished letters and other archival material that can throw some light on this aspect of Sirén’s professional life: his particular role in the development of Oriental scholarship in Italy.’


I started to write this editorial for the FNG Research issue just when the annually organised Days for Science were about to start. In the main Finnish newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, there was an interview with three academics, namely the former rector and chancellor of the University of Helsinki Risto Ihamuotila, Professor of Cosmology Kari Enqvist and researcher of political history, Johanna Vuorelma. They all defended the significance of the sciences, the meaning of knowledge based on facts and profound research, at a time of the increasing dominance of social media, when it is possible to spread all kinds of knowledge just with one keystroke.

According to them, in science it is important to understand that knowledge is constantly changing and that it is always important to recheck already existing information: what we know and what can be known (Helsingin Sanomat 9 January 2019). In undertaking this kind of rechecking, the role of archives and the development and deeper understanding of their content is extremely important.

Featured image: Aarre Heinonen, Railway Square, 1945, oil on canvas, 81cm x 60cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

Bodhisattva, Qi Dynasty, 6th century, donated by Osvald Sirén to the National Museum of Oriental Art in Rome. Museo di Arte Orientale di Roma Photo: Museo di Arte Orientale di Roma

Peer-Reviewed Article: ‘A Satisfaction to the Heart and to the Intellect’

A Note on Osvald Sirén’s Connections with Italy through his Epistolary

Antonella Perna, PhD Candidate, University of Turku

A few years ago, I was visiting the Sirén Archive in Stockholm (Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities) researching the letters Osvald Sirén (1879–1966) had written to the Italian art historian Lionello Venturi (1885–1961).[1] Sirén was a Finnish-born art historian who lived for most of his life in Sweden. However, he worked for some time as the art advisor to the Finnish entrepreneur and collector Paul Sinebrychoff (1859–1917). His expertise covered 18th-century Swedish art and Old Masters and thus he could secure some extremely fine examples that found their way into the Finnish collection. Today the works are part of the Finnish National Gallery Collection and can be visited at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum in Helsinki.[2] With this article I aim to shed new light on Sirén’s international career and the impact of his professional networking on the Italian art history scene.

Sirén and Venturi had shared an interest in Italian art history, and in particular the Italian Primitives. Among the letters I read, there was one that caught my attention, although it was not especially pertinent to my primary interest. It was addressed by Sirén to his Italian colleague.[3] In it a rather moved Sirén wrote to Venturi, both an old friend[4] and the spokesman of the Faculty, expressing his gratitude for the degree of Doctor Honoris Causa he had received from the University of Rome La Sapienza.[5] Sirén explained to Venturi that he was glad that his ‘contributions in the fields of Oriental and Italian art’ had been acknowledged as important. He also added he especially appreciated such recognition because of his personal ‘intellectual connection and artistic devotion to Italy’.[6] The official motivation for awarding the honorary degree, granted by the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy[7], emerges in another letter sent by the dean Angelo Monteverde: it was granted for the ‘high merits reached in the field of art-historical research’.[8] These facts alone, however, do not explain the reasons and the events leading to the award. I thus became interested in understanding the circumstances surrounding such recognition in a country where Sirén had neither maintained any institutional position nor any official role.

[1] The research was connected to my doctoral thesis which deals with the relationship between Sirén and Venturi in the 1920s and will be examined in 2019.

[2] The collection was donated and belongs to the Finnish State.

[3] Copy of the letter from Osvald Sirén to Lionello Venturi, 26 February 1959. Collection of Sirén’s letters. Sirén Archive. Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm.

[4] The circumstance of their first encounter is uncertain. However, the two scholars were part of the same network of intellectuals involved with Italian Primitive Art, including Bernard Berenson and Adolfo Venturi. Antonella Perna, ‘Osvald Sirénin matka Italian taidehistoriaan.’ In Teppo Jokinen & Hanne Selkokari (eds.), Italiassa ja Saksanmaalla. Taiteilijoiden ja taiteentuntijoiden matkassa 18401930. (Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 2011), 267–75.

[5] Copy of the letter from Osvald Sirén to Lionello Venturi, 26 February 1959. Collection of Sirén’s letters. Sirén Archive. Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm.

[6] Copy of the letter from Osvald Sirén to Lionello Venturi, 26 February 1959. Collection of Sirén’s letters. Sirén Archive. Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm.

[7] Both the departments of Art history and Eastern studies are still part of the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy at the University of Rome La Sapienza. While it had been possible to study art history from 1896 onwards, the curriculum of Eastern studies (Eastern Religions and philosophies) was inaugurated only in 1932. More specifically teaching on Eastern art history was available starting from 1953. https://web.uniroma1.it/diso/chi-siamo (accessed 4 September 2017).

[8] Letter from Angelo Monteverdi to Sirén, 20 March1959. Collection of Sirén’s letters. Sirén Archive. Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm.

Featured image: Bodhisattva, Qi Dynasty, 6th century, donated by Osvald Sirén to the National Museum of Oriental Art in Rome. Museo di Arte Orientale di Roma
Photo: Museo di Arte Orientale di Roma

Read more — Download ‘”A Satisfaction to the Heart and to the Intellect” ─ A Note on Osvald Sirén’s Connections with Italy through his Epistolary’, by Antonella Perna, as a PDF

Download the Full Peer Reviewed Article as a PDF >>

Eva Cederström, Self-portrait, 1937, oil on canvas, 65.5cm x 51cm. Lappeenranta Art Museum Photo: Lappeenranta Art Museum / Tuomas Nokelainen

‘I could give up everything to live only for painting’

Eva Cederström’s Career and Artist Identity 1927–39

Sandra Lindblom, MA student, University of Helsinki

This article is published as a result of a three-month research internship at the Finnish National Gallery [1]


And now, comes praise for the female painters! Ill be damned if we men also in this regard are beaten by the fairer sex! […] Eva Cederströms paintings in the southern hall sing out high. No. 39, June Morning in the Atelier, is a piece of true painting. She is no nervous man, Eva. She is not weighed down by complexes, she paints straight from the heart. The result is fresh, powerful and beautiful paintings.[2]

It was in this manner that the art critic Hjalmar Hagelstam (1899–1941) praised the work that Eva Cederström (1909–95) had brought to the ‘Finnish Artists’ Exhibition’ in Helsinki Kunsthalle in the spring of 1939. Instead of simply giving recognition to Cederström’s work, he constantly refers to her gender and the competition between the sexes in the art field. In general, the 1930s texts on art have a tendency to emphasise the gender of female artists.[3] Gender affected the expectations placed on artists, and there were certain prejudices among critics and art institutions against female artists.[4] Women were artists and studied art,[5] but they did not have the same starting point for their careers as their male colleagues. Only a few women had influential positions in Finland.[6]

My original interest in Eva Cederström’s early career was caught by a desire to understand how it was to start a career as a female artist in a time like this. As I familiarised myself with earlier research and previously unstudied archive material, it became increasingly clear that it was hard to answer this question since the details on Cederström’s early career were so vague. Unlike the art critics, Cederström herself seemed to perceive gender as a minor part of her identity as an artist. Examining Cederström’s career development only from a gendered perspective seemed problematic, as it was affected by several factors. Conducting further biographical research therefore became the principal focus of this article. Then, based on this research, I also draw conclusions as to how gender played its part.

[1] Quotation in the title of the article: ‘Voisin antaa kaikki saadakseni yksin maalaukselle elää.’ Eva Cederström’s diary 29 March 1938. Eva Cederström Archive (ECA). Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery (FNG), Helsinki.

[2] ‘Och nu, på ny kula fram för en hyllning av målarinnorna! är det inte som tusan, att vi karlar också i denna sak få på tafsen av det täcka könet! […] [H]ögt smälla nu Eva Cederströms målningar i södra salen. N:r 39 ‘Junimorgon i ateljén’ är ett stycke verkligt måleri. Hon är ingen rädder karl, hon Eva. Hon samlar ej på komplex av bundhet, hon målar på rätt ut ur hjärtat. Och resultaten äro friska starka och vackra målningar.’ Hjalmar Hagelstam, ‘Finska konstnärerernas XLVII årsutställning’, Svenska Pressen 13 April 1939. All translations in this article are by the author.

[3] There is an ongoing discussion on the use of terminology concerning female artists in the field of art history. Researchers such as Griselda Pollock advocate the use of the term ‘artist woman’ as the term ‘female artist’ also holds historical, negative connotations. Using the term ‘female artist’ also unfairly puts a focus on the gender of female artists, whereas gender is seldom emphasised in the case of male artists. The term ‘female artists’ also implicitly states that women are not included in the term ‘artist’. In my study I will use the term ‘female artist’ as an operative term, as my study also investigates the ways of perceiving what it means to be a female artist in the 1930s and 1940s.

[4] Rakel Kallio has written about the prejudice of the art historians Onni Okkonen and Edvard Richter towards young female artists. Rakel Kallio, ‘Taidekritiikki ja sukupuoli-ideologia’ in Riitta Nikula (ed.), Nainen, taide, historia, Taidehistorian esitutkimus 1985–1986 (Helsinki: Taidehistoriallisia tutkimuksia 10, 1987), 240.

[5] The percentages of female art students in 1923–35 was approximately 40.5 per cent. The Finnish Art Society’s annual reports 1923–35. Helsinki: Suomen Taideyhdistys 1924–36.

[6] There were some women holding influential positions in the art field, such as museum curator Aune Lindström and art critics Sigrid Schauman and Signe Tandefelt. Kristina Linnovaara, Makt, konst, elit – konstfältets positioner, relationer och resurser i 1940- och 1950-talens Helsingfors (Helsingfors: Statens konstmuseum, 2008), 120–24.

Featured image: Eva Cederström, Self-portrait, 1937, oil on canvas, 65.5cm x 51cm. Lappeenranta Art Museum
Photo: Lappeenranta Art Museum / Tuomas Nokelainen

Read more — Download ‘”I could give up everything to live only for painting” ─ Eva Cederström’s Career and Artist Identity 1927–39’, by Sandra Lindblom, as a PDF

Download the Full Article as a PDF >>

Three Research Interns Appointed at the Finnish National Gallery for 2019

The three research interns of the FNG research internship programme for 2019 have been appointed. The selections were made based on the applications and the following points were underlined:

  • The point of view of the archives and collections: priority was given to students whose applications were based on a concrete and defined part of the FNG collections and especially to previously unstudied and/or topical materials
  • Preparation of the working plan and the research questions related to the chosen collections material

The FNG research intern programme has two aims. The Finnish National Gallery wishes to enhance the study of its collections, including artworks, archives, and objects. At the same time we wish to support students who choose to write their master’s-level theses on subjects based on physical collections and objects, archive material and data.

The research interns of the Finnish National Gallery for 2019 are:

Emma Lilja, University of Helsinki

Artworks by Sami artists in the collection of the Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma and archival material related to them, including interviews

Mariliis Rebane, University of Helsinki

Exhibitions at the Ateneum: changes in exhibition design (the shift from salon hanging to the white cube); photographs of exhibitions from 1890s onwards, Archive of the Finnish Art Society (minutes, exhibition lists), press cuttings collection and other related archival material

Eljas Suvanto, University of Helsinki

The donation of artworks made by the art collector and Master of Law with court training Arvid Sourander to the Fine Arts Academy of Finland (now the Finnish National Gallery), with a focus on the donation of over 30 artworks by the Finnish painter Fanny Churberg (1845–1892) in 1940: art collection of the Finnish National Gallery, Archives of the Fine Arts Academy of Finland and Professor Aune Lindström, press cuttings collection

The internship period is for three months. All of the interns will have their own in-house tutors to support them with studying their chosen material.

The call for research interns for 2020 will be launched in autumn 2019. We hope again to receive applications from art and cultural history students interested in our collections, who are from different universities in Finland, but also those from other countries.

For more information about the FNG’s research internship programme: fngr@nationalgallery.fi