Johannes Takanen, Carl Gustaf Estlander, 1883, plaster cast, height 66cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Peer Reviewed Article: Nordic Art History in the Making

Nordic Art History in the Making: Carl Gustaf Estlander and Tidskrift för Bildande Konst och Konstindustri 1875–1876

Susanna Pettersson, PhD, Museum Director, Ateneum Art Museum

 

First published in Renja Suominen-Kokkonen (ed.), The Challenges of Biographical Research in Art History Today. Taidehistoriallisia tutkimuksia (Studies in Art History) 46. Helsinki: Taidehistorian seura (The Society for Art History in Finland), 64–73, 2013

 

… “så länge vi på vår sida göra allt hvad i vår magt står – den mår vara hur ringa som helst – för att skapa ett konstorgan, värdigt vårt lands och vår tids fordringar.

Stockholm i December 1874. Redaktionen.”

(‘… as long as we do everything we can – however little that may be – to create an art body that is worth the claims of our countries and of our time.

From the Editorial staff, Stockholm, December 1874.’)[1]

 

These words were addressed to the readers of the first issue of the brand new art journal Tidskrift för bildande konst och konstindustri (Journal of Fine Arts and Arts and Crafts) published in Stockholm over two years in 1875–1876. One of the founding members of the journal was the Finnish academic and cultural activist Carl Gustaf Estlander (1834–1910), whose professional ambitions fit well into the picture.

I will argue that Tidskrift för bildande konst och konstindustri provided the Nordic editors of the journal with a platform to manifest their concept of art history. They developed a method of communicating the contents through a specific set of articles. The journal was a perfect 19th-century example of a project showcasing the development of a profession in the making and the use of professional networks. For Estlander, this was a gateway to the Nordic and North European art-historical discourse, and strengthened his position as the leading Finnish art historian of his time.

[1] Tidskrift för bildande konst och konstindustri 1875. Stockholm: C. E. Fritze’s Bokhandel, VIII.

Featured image: Johannes Takanen, Carl Gustaf Estlander, 1883, plaster cast, height 66cm.
Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

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The Ateneum, which opened to the public in 1888, was the first official building in Finland dedicated to the arts. Photograph by Daniel Nyblin, 1890 / Finnish National Gallery.

Peer Reviewed Article: The Art Museum as Author of Art History – The Formation of a National Art Collection in Finland and the Case of Copies

Susanna Pettersson, PhD, Museum Director, Ateneum Art Museum

First published in ‘Mind and Matter. Selected Papers of Nordik 2009 Conference for Art Historians’. Edited by Johanna Vakkari. Taidehistoriallisia tutkimuksia / Studies in Art History 41. Helsinki: Taidehistorian seura – Society of Art History, 216–227.

People have always been keen to hear, tell and build complete stories. The reasons have to do with the encyclopaedic need to understand the world and its mechanisms and to govern the universe by relevant explanations. The more one knows the more power one has, as demonstrated in the early cabinets of curiosities of the Renaissance period.[1] The driving force behind every collection is a dream of completeness, and creating something that remains even after the collector’s death.[2] Collecting is also a statement of what’s considered valuable and worth seeing. In this sense a collector is a creator, a storyteller.

Public museums are not that different. They are committed to the formation of art history by collecting, displaying and interpreting works of art at an institutional level. Museums have become the official narrators of art history – but not without the individual decision-makers and gatekeepers who have used the institutional power. The formation of collections has depended on their personal value judgement, understanding and taste.

It’s also vital to understand the role of the museums as non-neutral, political tools. They have been used to build and to illustrate a nation, as authors such as Benedict Anderson[3] have suggested. Museums create an institutional aura for the master narratives, and help nations to visualise the past and the present by displaying collections according to the greater consensus.[4] This is particularly interesting in the case of 19th-century representations since that was typically an era of ‘one’ story, art history forming a good example of this.

This article looks into one of the early Finnish cases, the formation of the art collection of the Finnish Art Society[5], and describes the high expectations and controversies that emerged in late 19th-century Finland when the collection was permanently displayed at the Ateneum building, opened to the public in the autumn of 1888 in Helsinki city centre.

[1] See Mauries, Patrick, Cabinets of Curiosities. Thames and Hudson, 2002.

[2] About the psychology of collecting see Muensterberger, Werner, Collecting: An Unruly Passion. Psychological Perspectives. San Diego, New York, London: A Harvest Book, 1994.

[3] Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 1983.

[4] This can be demonstrated by looking into the history of displays where different trends apply: the 19th-century collection display emphasised the traditional story of art told with the help of different Schools and this remained the dominating way to address the issue until the last decades of 20th century when museums started to present multiple stories at the same time, mixing and blending the major narrative with minor narratives, representing the local and global together and travelling in time, thus demonstrating the links from the contemporary to the past. For influential examples see the documentation of the 1998 collection display at Moderna Museet, Stockholm and the 2000 collection display at Tate Modern, London.

[5] For an extensive study of the formation of the collection of the Finnish Art Society see Pettersson, Susanna, Suomen Taideyhdistyksestä Ateneumiin. Fredrik Cygnaeus, Carl Gustaf Estlander ja taidekokoelman roolit. Suomalaisen kirjallisuuden seura: Helsinki, 2008.

Featured image: The Ateneum, which opened to the public in 1888, was the first official building in Finland dedicated to the arts. Photograph by Daniel Nyblin, 1890 / Finnish National Gallery

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Peer Reviewed Article: Crossing between Textual, Positioned and Biographic

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

First published in The Challenges of Biographical Research in Art History Today. Taidehistoriallisia tutkimuksia 46 – Konsthistoriska studier 46 (Studies in Art History). Edited by Renja Suominen-Kokkonen. Helsinki 2013: The Society of Art History in Finland, 151–159

The purpose of this paper is to reflect, from a researcher’s subjective standpoint, on some key points of the narrative of my doctoral thesis, which I defended in December 2010. The thesis discussed the writing and cultural positioning of Einari J. Vehmas (1902–1980), an influential Finnish art critic and art museum curator, over a period of 30 years from the 1930s to the 1960s.[1] Decisions taken in the course of the research and writing process reflect changing methodological stances, which ultimately ended up in a set of ambivalences, especially in relation to the question of biographic research. It is obvious that the theoretical challenges that arose during the research process and that also tended to lead to contradictory argumentations, reflect in a general way the multidisciplinary character of practising art history. With this retrospective and (self) critical meta-narrative I therefore wish to portray a fundamental fluidity and openness in our discipline’s premises over the past decades, both in Finland and internationally.

When my thesis finally saw the light of day in written form, its theoretical and methodological settings were somewhat inconsistent and it had proved a challenge not to let all the paths of survey lead to a fatal dissonance with the pragmatic aim of the work. Ultimately I had decided to take a risk in not introducing a clearly argued theoretical framework to support the discussion. In the formal academic procedure my opponent in her critical response posed one mainly coercive question, a question that outlines the problematic kernel at stake also in this paper. She wished to know whether the thesis was about researching texts or a person. [2] I was stunned by the question. Had I missed a point or had she missed mine, had my intellectual ambiguities blurred my sight, was it really mandatory to choose? I was unprepared and unwilling to take a stance, but shortly afterwards I was stimulated by the controversy which, in fact, should not have been so unexpected.

[1] Riitta Ojanperä, Kriitikko Einari J. Vehmas ja moderni taide, Valtion taidemuseo / Kuvataiteen keskusarkisto 20, Helsinki 2010.

[2] Some key points of PhD Tutta Palin’s statements were published in her critique on the published thesis: Tutta Palin, ‘Taidekirjoittajan muotokuva’, TAHITI Taidehistoria tieteenä. Konsthistoria som vetenskap, 1/2011. http://tahiti.fi/01-2011/vaitokset/taidekirjoittajan-muotokuva/ (8.7.2015.)

Featured image: The 1958 retrospective exhibition of the Finnish painter Tyko Sallinen at the Ateneum Art Museum. Director Aune Lindström (far left) and the show’s curator Deputy Director Einari J. Vehmas (far right) welcome the Finnish President Urho Kekkonen and his wife. Photo: Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery. Photographer unknown

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