Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

Editorial: Living in the Material World

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

 

25 March 2020

 

As I sit down to write this Editorial, the museums in Finland have been closed for more than two months. In this challenging situation, continuity also offers some consolation, the fact that everything continues despite the Covid-19 virus. At this time there is also light at the end of the tunnel, and the museums are scheduled to reopen at the beginning of June, following the decree of the Finnish government.

There is a basic need in people to see beautiful and thought-provoking things in time and space, as a bodily experience – and that is exactly what museums can offer. The digital is only a substitute.

The third issue of FNG Research we publish this year is in this sense special. The articles in this edition are, as if by accident, all related to the effect of the physical aspects in art works. They all underline the importance of materiality and the use of physical means in visual art works: a sense of materiality, the use of tactile surfaces and colours in art.

In an interview by Gill Crabbe, Hanne Tikkala, who is funded as a research assistant at FNG’s materials research laboratory to undertake research for her doctoral dissertation, discusses the use of different colours by the iconic figure in Finnish ‘Golden Age’ art, namely that of Akseli Gallen-Kallela. Forgeries of his works have been circulating in abundance, even during his lifetime, which makes this research of utmost importance to the contemporary art world and art market. The research is based on a conservation project that started in 2017. FNG’s Senior Conservation Scientist Seppo Hornytzkyj, together with Tikkala, have been conducting an extensive analysis of the pigments Gallen-Kallela used, selecting works spanning his entire career, from 1880 until 1929. The research shows, among other things, that Gallen-Kallela always tried to use high-quality pigments that retain their colour, which is difficult to imitate.

The two other articles in this issue have been published in the exhibition catalogue of Silent Beauty – Nordic and East Asian Interaction, and the exhibition is currently on show in Stockholm, in the Prins Eugen’s Waldemarsudde museum until 16 August 2020.

In her article, ‘Sense of Materiality, Simplification and Ascetic Minimalism’, Anne-Marie Pennonen is underlining the importance of simplification and the sense of materiality in art in the period following the two World Wars. The style also became an ideological and ethical question for many artists of that time, as they combined spirituality with social idealism. As Pennonen states: ‘The importance of hand-made objects and the use of natural materials were also emphasised.’

In Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff’s article ‘A Changing Landscape’, the poetical and ideological aspects are underlined in Finnish landscape painting during the 20th century: ‘Landscapes were associated with poetry, purification and heightened emotional states’, she writes. The industrialisation of Europe prompted many artists to think about the possibilities of using landscape painting as a manifestation and expression of more spiritual ideas and that was achieved through, among other things, the deployment of colour. The ideal of simplicity too evoked parallels with music and spiritual life. A very Asian notion of emptiness and space was also emphasised.

During this period of the Covid-19 pandemic, when everybody is confined to their homes, the meaning of culture and intellectual activity becomes even more important than before. It is a question of connecting with others. Art plays an important part in bringing humanistic ways of thinking to the fore. This is something we all need – and we need it right now.

Featured image: The banner on the facade of the Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki, during the closure of the museum in spring 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The text says: ‘Art is waiting until we meet again.’
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

Ahti Lavonen, Untitled, 1961, oil on canvas, 54cm x 65.5cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

A Sense of Materiality, Simplification and Ascetic Minimalism

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

Also published in Anne-Maria Pennonen and Hanne Selkokari (eds.), Silent Beauty – Nordic and East Asian Interaction. Ateneum Publications Vol. 117. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Transl. Don McCracken

Western art and the applied arts underwent great changes in the early decades of the 20th century. The post-First World War period was characterised by idealism, from culture to politics and the economy. Efforts were made to break established norms, find new means of expression and test the boundaries of art. In art this change manifested in abstract art, while in the applied-arts field there was a rejection of traditional ornamental styles, and a simplification of shapes and materials. The aim was to create a democratic world, and the material environment played a central role in this endeavour.

In the spirit of the age, the art field idealised machines and mass production and strove to combine spirituality with social idealism. At the same time, various avant-garde movements connected with Modernism began to take over. Conversely, the opposite values were also highlighted in the applied arts, where the goal was to get rid of mass production. Already in the late 19th century, encouraged by William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement, artists and craftsmen were urged to integrate their work with that of artisans, returning to their immediate connection to their material. The importance of hand-made objects and the use of natural materials were also emphasised.

Following international trends, Finnish artists began to use new methods in the spirit of Modernism. The truth-to-life academic style of painting and using materials was abandoned in favour of simplification and a sense of materiality, which were all emphasised in both the visual and applied arts. Eastern artists and aesthetics played a significant role in this development. This article discusses how the materiality and asceticism of Finnish artists’ paintings can be viewed alongside ceramics and textile art. How does a sense of materiality, and on the other hand minimalism, appear in these works? Which methods have been used, which features have been emphasised, and how does this trend relate to oriental aesthetics?

Featured image: Ahti Lavonen, Untitled, 1961, oil on canvas, 54cm x 65.5cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

Read more — Download ‘A Sense of Materiality, Simplification and Ascetic Minimalism’, by Anne-Maria Pennonen, as a PDF

Download the article as a PDF >>

Anitra Lucander, Stony Moor, 1957, oil on canvas, 41.5cm × 54.5cm Ester and Jalo Sihtola Fine Arts Foundation Donation, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

A Changing Landscape

Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, PhD, Chief Curator, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum

Also published in Anne-Maria Pennonen and Hanne Selkokari (eds.), Silent Beauty – Nordic and East Asian Interaction. Ateneum Publications Vol. 117. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Transl. Don McCracken

Many of the most significant transformations in European art between the 1870s and the First World War occurred in the field of landscape painting. Although landscape painting as a genre was initially a relatively small part of the visual arts field, it offered opportunities for improvisation and self-expression, and a deeper relationship with nature as an artist, writer or traveller. Landscapes were associated with poetry, purification and heightened emotional states. Many artists eschewed the materialistic view of an industrialising Europe, and instead sought an understanding of landscape painting and a deployment of colour within it that would evoke parallels with more intangible forms of expression, such as music and spiritual life. In the era of Symbolist art in the 1890s, an image of the world based on sensory perception encountered an image fuelled by the imagination. New styles and compositions replaced the objectivity of plein air landscapes; there was no differentiation between the way the foreground and background was treated, and the traditional concept of perspective was broken.[1]

Nordic artists’ ways of portraying the landscape changed radically at the end of the 19th century. One of the major reasons for this was a growing familiarity with Japanese and Chinese art and its visual culture.[2] Characteristics of Japonisme began to appear in Nordic landscape art from the late 1870s. From an international perspective, this was already the second wave. Nordic artists’ perception of the landscape expanded and focused on new kinds of subject matter. Gabriel P. Weisberg summarised the new visual features of European art when he said that they came from Japanese imagery that featured numerous references to Mount Fuji, rugged beach cliffs, dense lines of trees and the rhythmic formation of waves.[3]

[1] Richard Thomson. ‘In to the Mystic’, in Frances Fowle (ed.), Van Gogh to Kandinsky. Symbolist Landscape in Europe 1880–1910. Brussels: National Galleries of Scotland, Van Gogh Museum, Ateneum Art Museum & Mercatorfonds, 2012, (151−77), 151; Rodolphe Rapetti. ‘Introduction. Landscapes and Symbols’, in Frances Fowle (ed.), Van Gogh to Kandinsky. Symbolist Landscape in Europe 1880–1910. Brussels: National Galleries of Scotland, Van Gogh Museum, Ateneum Art Museum & Mercatorfonds, 2012, (15−38), 15.

[2] Europeans did not necessarily distinguish between Japanese and Chinese ceramics and art. Gabriel P. Weisberg. ‘Rethinking Japonisme: The Popularization of a Taste’, in Gabriel P. Weisberg et al. (eds.), The Orient Expressed: Japan’s Influence on Western Art, 1854–1918. Jackson: Mississippi Museum of Art, 2011, (17−75), 17−19, 33; Anna Tuovinen [Kortelainen]. ‘Japanismia à la française’, in Anna Tuovinen (ed.), Japanismi Suomen vuosisadan vaihteen taiteessa. Turun taidemuseon julkaisuja 2/94. Turku: Turun taidemuseo, 1994, (6−21), 10−12.

[3] For new visual tropes in Japanese art, see Gabriel P. Weisberg. ‘The Japonisme Phenomenon’, in Gabriel Weisberg, Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff & Hanne Selkokari (eds.), Japanomania in the Nordic Countries 1875−1918. Helsinki: Ateneum Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery & Mercatorfonds, 2016, (14−37), 27−31.

Featured image: Anitra Lucander, Stony Moor, 1957, oil on canvas, 41.5cm × 54.5cm
Ester and Jalo Sihtola Fine Arts Foundation Donation, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

Read more — Download ‘A Changing Landscale’, by Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, as a PDF

Download the article as a PDF >>

Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Mt. Donia Sabuk, 1909, oil on wood, 14cm x 18 cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

Akseli Gallen-Kallela: Travels through his Colour Palette

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

Materials research is a vital part of maintaining up-to date information on artworks in museum collections. Gill Crabbe meets FNG assistant researcher Hanne Tikkala, who is compiling a comprehensive database of the pigments used in Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s paintings

As one of the largest repositories of works by the Finnish visionary artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865–1931), the Finnish National Gallery is continuously looking to refine and update its technical and art-historical understanding of the artist and his oeuvre, including knowledge of the materials he used. With some of his finest paintings fetching six-figure sums on the international art market, this continuing research is an essential part of maintaining the most up-to-date information on the artist, especially as it is often the FNG that collectors and museums approach to provide authentication of works in their possession. Since Gallen-Kallela – an iconic figure in Finnish art of the ‘Golden Age’ – was prey to forgers even during his own lifetime, research into the artist’s materials becomes even more important. Moreover, such data is also of indispensable help in solving conservation and restoration-related questions and problems. It also contributes to an increasing understanding of the techniques the artist evolved during his career, as well as providing corroborative evidence for art historians in their research.

Since 2017, FNG’s Senior Conservation Scientist Seppo Hornytzkyj and his colleague Hanne Tikkala, assistant researcher in the FNG’s materials research laboratory, have been conducting an extensive analysis of the pigments Gallen-Kallela used, selecting works spanning his entire career, from 1880 until 1929. The research has been partly funded by the Finnish Cultural Foundation, which has awarded Tikkala three year-long grants to cover her salary to undertake this research work for her PhD under the auspices of the University of Jyväskylä.

Featured image: Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Mt. Donia Sabuk, 1909, oil on wood, 14cm x 18cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen
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.

Read more — Download ‘Akseli Gallen-Kallela: Travels through his Colour Palette’, by Gill Crabbe, as a PDF

Download the article as a PDF >>