First page of Helene Schjerfbeck’s letter to Martha Neiglick-Platonoff, Saltsjöbaden, Sweden 20 August 1944. Helene Schjerfbeck’s letters to Martha Neiglick-Platonoff. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

New Donation of Helene Schjerfbeck Letters to the Finnish National Gallery

Helena Hätönen, MA, Curator, Archives and Library, Finnish National Gallery

The Archive Collections of the Finnish National Gallery received an interesting addition to its collection of artists’ letters recently, when a private individual donated eight letters written by painter Helene (Elli) Schjerfbeck (1862–1946) that had been in the possession of the donor’s family. The letters relate to the last years of Schjerfbeck’s life, when she was in Sweden, from the summer of 1944 to the summer of 1945. Schjerfbeck was staying in Saltsjöbaden’s spa hotel where she still painted whenever her health permitted.

The recipient of the donated letters was her second cousin, artist Martha Neiglick-Platonoff (1889–1964). Schjerfbeck’s mother and Neiglick’s maternal grandmother were sisters. The War Censors had opened and examined half of the letters. The recipient’s Russian surname probably affected the matter. The censorship practice was obviously known to the author as well. The contents of the letters are summarised and restrained, and many things are alluded to rather than made explicit.

Martha Neiglick had studied, like Helene Schjerfbeck, at the Finnish Art Society’s Drawing School and later abroad. She had remained a widow following the death of her spouse, the Russian naval captain, Lieutenant Igor Platonoff (1887–1921). To Helene Schjerfbeck, Martha Platonoff was both a relative and an artist colleague.

The donated letters date from the time of the Continuation War’s intensification in the summer 1944, and it is because of this that Schjerfbeck had moved to a more secure residence in Sweden. Martha Platonoff was staying in the Finnish countryside to escape the Russian bombardments. Her only offspring, Lieutenant Stephan Platonoff (1917–44) – who was also a Master of Arts – had crashed at the Finnish front line in the Battle of Ihantala on the Karelian Isthmus at the end of June that year. The event is never mentioned in the letters, but it is made apparent through the themes of fear, mourning and loss contained in them.

The letters will be made available to researchers after they have received due conservation. One of the letters, written on 20 August 1944, is now published in digital format in FNG Research. To access it, click the link below.

Featured image: First page of Helene Schjerfbeck’s letter to Martha Neiglick-Platonoff, Saltsjöbaden, Sweden, 20 August 1944. Helene Schjerfbeck’s letters to Martha Neiglick-Platonoff. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

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Helene Schjerfbeck, Self-Portrait, 1912, oil on canvas Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

The Enigma of Helene Schjerfbeck

Interview by Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

As the Finnish National Gallery announces a new donation of Helene Schjerfbeck’s letters, Gill Crabbe interviews Lena Holger, who has been a scholar of this intriguing artist since the 1970s and whose extensive research work has been significant in producing new knowledge and questions regarding Schjerfbeck’s art and life

GC A private individual has recently donated to the Finnish National Gallery eight letters written by Helene Schjerfbeck (1862–1946) that were in the possession of the donor’s family. The letters relate to Schjerfbeck’s last years of life in Sweden, from 1944 to 1945, when she resided in Saltsjöbaden’s spa hotel. The letters were written to Schjerfbeck’s second cousin, the artist Martha Neiglick-Platonoff (1889–1964). What research questions do you imagine are prompted by the emergence of these letters?
LH Helene Schjerfbeck longed to return home to Finland for most of the two years that she
stayed in Sweden, which were her last years. She wanted to have her relatives nearby and
would certainly have appreciated such correspondence highly. I have not seen the letters yet, but hopefully they contain more than mere family matters. I presume that Martha Neiglick-Platonoff’s letters to Schjerfbeck have disappeared, like so many other letters addressed to Helene Schjerfbeck.

GC What is the significance of the 1912 Self-Portrait which was recently purchased by the Ateneum Art Museum? This self-portrait has been known and exhibited, but there is clearly a new interest in portraiture and self-portraits internationally, so are there new angles to this part of Schjerfbeck’s oeuvre?
LH Portraits always say more about a person than a photograph does, and a painted
self-portrait says even more. I have written about this self-portrait from 1912 in an article
about international influences in the book accompanying the 1997 exhibition in Denmark at Nordjyllands Kunstmuseum, ‘Helene Schjerfbeck: kvinder, mandsportraetter, selvportraetter, landskaber, stilleben’ (Helene Schjerfbeck: women, portraits of men, self-portraits, landscapes, still-lifes), and more recently in my book for the Ateneum Art Museum in 2016. It is a sign of a new self-confidence and a kind of ‘goodbye’ to the artist world, which had not accepted her as an artist colleague. In the painting, one of her eyes is without an iris as though she was blind: blind to the world or blind to the critics. She is also turning her painting soul and face to the public again after about 10 years of painting in solitude. She had latterly entered on her own path as an artist and she shows it here.

Featured image: Helene Schjerfbeck, Self-Portrait, 1912, oil on canvas
Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

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Featured image: Jorma Puranen, From the Series ‘Shadows, Reflections and All of That Kind’, 1997–2002, chromogenic colour print. Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

Care for the Image – Meaning, Sense, Materiality

Ari Tanhuanpää, PhD Candidate, Senior Conservator, Finnish National Gallery, Sinebrychoff Art Museum

This is a summary of the doctoral dissertation in art history defended at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland, on 10 June, 2017. Its theoretical starting point is a phenomenologically-based view of the being of the image, in which Georges Didi-Huberman´s work plays a central role. One of the central aims of this research is the critical assessment of prevailing premises in conservation-restoration and technical art history. This study attempts to show that physical art objects, instead of being puzzles to be solved, are paradoxical in nature. Edmund Husserl has shown that image consciousness requires a specific kind of intentionality, similarly, consciousness of the Materiality of the Image presupposes a consciousness of a materiality that is ontologically distinct to the Image.

The study begins with a discussion on the Heideggerian concept of ʿcareʾ (Sorge). For Martin Heidegger, care was the ontological mode of Dasein. It meant mindful lingering, Besinnung, on the beings which are ready-to-hand (zuhanden) and present-to-hand (vorhanden) and have a fundamental ontological significance. It meant care for the sense (Sinn) of Being. Georges Didi-Huberman also discusses the concept of ʿcareʾ. His concept (souci) denotes care for images and imagination, for meaningful, affective encounters with images, and involves solicitation that makes images oscillate. Images do not submit to being regarded as subsistent (vorhanden) intentional correlates of the constituting ego in the sense of Gegenstand. Instead, they become constellations comparable to cloud formations or gas eruptions, which are in a state of continuous, endless motion, pulling us towards their swaying motion. Such constellations can provide only negative certainty, certainty without an object, connaissance sans objet, in Jean-Luc Marion´s terms. The only certainty we are able to glean from an artwork belongs to the region of its beingness, to its physical artefactuality. However, that which makes an artwork has nothing ontic, nothing thinglike in it. With the term ʿImageʾ, I refer to a concept that does not fall within the sphere of traditional art-history discourse. It is my conviction that an image is never alone. Images are always contaminated by numerous other images from various eras. In the words of Jean-Luc Nancy, an image is singular plural. Yet it is all too often approached only in its impoverished form, in Marion´s terms as a poor (pauvre) phenomenon.

We can have knowledge only of objects, not of images. The sensuous manifoldness of images has been reduced to match our finite cognitive faculties. Here, I am not referring to images as signs or symbols as they are understood in iconography, iconology, visual culture studies, semiotics or Bildwissenschaft, and I will not try to give a definition of the concept of ʿimageʾ. Neither am I talking about popular imagery. The Image I am talking about is not a single entity – it is a relation, and it is for this reason that I have chosen to write it with a capital I. The capital initial also underlines the fact that the Image is ontologically distinct (le distinct). When the word ʿimageʾ is spoken, there is no way of knowing about the capital letter – any more than you can hear the distinction between différence or différance. Therefore, I must show this Image to you – just like Derrida had to write down his différance in order to make it known. Thus writing comes before speech – the material sign that is the original mimēsis before any representative function. The Image I am referring to does not represent anything – any thing – that precedes it. It does not represent anything exterior but performs its being of the Image by being an image, a relation.

Featured image: Jorma Puranen, chromogenic colour print from the series ‘Shadows, Reflections and All of That Kind’, 1997–2002, . Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

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Eila Hiltunen working on the Sibelius Monument, 1966. Photographer: Otso Pietinen. Eila Hiltunen Picture Archive. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery

Dissertation in Progress: A Topography of Art Research, including Eila Hiltunen’s Files at the Finnish National Gallery Archive Collections

Gloria  Lauterbach, PhD Student, Contemporary Art, Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Helsinki

A short chronology of my research

In my doctoral research I study large-scale metal sculptures and the way the material and the female sculptor’s body affect each other in the creative process. In order to understand this interrelationship – also expressible as material exchange in the field of New Materialism where I anchor this research – my case studies are two Finnish sculptors, Eila Hiltunen (1922–2003) and Laila Pullinen[1] (1933–2015) and the metal works they created in the period 1961–1969. As a visual artist I complement my study by hand-folding a large-scale copper relief to investigate the theoretical considerations of my dissertation topic in practice.

I started my research with a review of selected works and working methods of Hiltunen and Pullinen from a neo-materialistic viewpoint. I have alternated the study phases within the archive collections of the Finnish National Gallery with my training in the traditional crafts technique of the standing seam – a technique derived from traditional roof making – under the supervision of a professional smith and roof maker. The standing seam technique is the main technique that I use for creating the work of art within my doctoral study. In a last part of my study, I will compare and analyse the findings collected by creating the large-scale copper relief with the data collected from the case studies on one hand and my theoretical frameworks on the other hand.

[1] Laila Pullinen’s archive material is located in a private collection and is currently being studied for this dissertation.

Featured image: Eila Hiltunen working on the Sibelius Monument, 1966. Photographer: Otso Pietinen.
Eila Hiltunen Picture Archive. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery

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Pilvi Takala, The Trainee, 2008. Installation shot, Kiasma 2009. Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Editorial: A Trainee to Remember

Leevi Haapala, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma


May 26, 2017


It would be a challenge for museums to manage their daily activities without skilful interns from various study programmes linked to museum studies. Each year, several students who are training at master’s level in art history, aesthetics, museology and cultural management and production come to work with us from between one and three months. They work together with museum professionals on an exhibition or research project, they help to catalogue works of art and documents for databases, update artists’ files, edit exhibition texts, just to mention some of the key tasks.

I still remember one particular trainee from 10 years ago. Kiasma’s partner at that time, Deloitte, came up with a proposal to have an artist in residence in their office building in Ruoholahti, Helsinki. The aim of the project was to re-examine the development of co-operation between the company and the museum together with an artist. The idea was to develop a new kind of project model in which three different agents could meet and learn something together. The young artist Pilvi Takala had just completed her studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki, and I thought she was the right person to start with a discussion about this highly unconventional trainee programme.

Her art works open up the codes of behaviour operating in different social situations, so she needed a cover story to stay in the office building without revealing her background as an artist or her research topic, namely the company as a work place and its social habits among the personnel seen from the perspective of a trainee. For Takala the internship was a one-month intervention, in which an initially normal-seeming marketing trainee started to apply peculiar working methods during the last week of the internship. For example, she stayed for a whole day in the elevator in order, she said, ‘to do the thinking work’. On another day she just calmly sat by her desk and stared ahead at law division’s office. She had hidden several cameras early in the morning in the office to document people’s reactions.

The unwritten rules, habits and practices of a work place became perceptible and re-examined during the process, feeding into her multi-channel video installation entitled The Trainee (2008), which has received worldwide recognition. Pilvi Takala will return to Kiasma in spring 2018 with a solo exhibition. She has started to prepare another exceptional project, but that is another story.

The editorial board of FNG Research has selected its first three research interns from Helsinki and Jyväskylä Universities based on an open call for applications earlier this spring. We were happy to find out that the interns had done their homework, and 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 topical materials. We’ll return to their essays on selected research matters later this year. We are happy to welcome our new interns with innovative insights!

Featured image: Pilvi Takala, The Trainee, 2008. Installation shot, Kiasma 2009. Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma.
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Paul Gauguin, printer Pola Gauguin, Te po (Night Eternal), 1893–94 (printed 1921) woodcut, 20.5 x 25.5cm Ahlström collection, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

Artek – a Bridge to the International Art World

Susanna Pettersson, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery, Ateneum Art Museum

 Also published in Sointu Fritze (ed.), Alvar Aalto – Art and the Modern Form. Ateneum Publications Vol. 93. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, 2017, 48–69. Transl. Wif Stenger

The exhibitions organised by the Artek gallery enjoy an almost iconic status in the field of Finnish art. These exhibitions were bold and ambitious. The idea behind them was to bring together modern art, industry, interior design and ‘propaganda’, by which was meant publishing activity. The exhibitions also left a lasting mark on Finnish art and on the Ateneum art collection.

‘Europe – its symbol could be […] an airplane above a cathedral. America – its symbol is an airplane above a skyscraper. In the latter picture, there is perfect harmony. In the first there is not. The former represents the present day. The latter, the future.’ [1]

It was with these words that the writer Olavi Paavolainen, in his book Nykyaikaa etsimässä (In Search of Modern Time), published in 1929, expressed his generation’s desire to see the world through new eyes. Finnish artists were accustomed to finding inspiration broadly in European countries, primarily in France, Germany and Italy. Paavolainen had, in his dreams, travelled further afield, as far as New York and Chicago.

Paavolainen’s book tackled three themes: the modern European lifestyle, new trends in art and the new image of humanity. Paavolainen wrote with great passion on behalf of modernity and against conservatism. He emphasised that in ‘developing a modern view of life’ one should pay attention to all the arts, meaning literature, the visual arts, theatre and music. He considered architecture an applied art, regarding Le Corbusier as one of the boldest theorists in his field.[2] Paavolainen sought out the avant-garde spirit in those around him, mentioning by name many Finnish and foreign contemporary artists, writers and architects. However, in his view, in Finland there was only one interesting architect – Alvar Aalto. Paavolainen described him as ‘a practical man with a bold approach and a daring theorist’.[3] And besides, Aalto – unlike many others – travelled by airplane.[4]

[1] Olavi Paavolainen, Nykyaikaa etsimässä (Helsinki: Otava, 1929), 145. Quoted in Finnish as: ‘Eurooppa – sen tunnuskuvana voisi olla […] katedraalin yllä liitelevä lentokone. Amerikka – sen tunnuskuvana on lentokone pilvenpiirtäjän yllä. Viimemainitussa näyssä on täydellinen harmonia. Ensin mainitussa ei. Edellinen esittää nykyisyyttä. Jälkimmäinen tulevaisuutta.

[2] Paavolainen 1929, 29 and 32.

[3] Paavolainen 1929, 51.

[4] Paavolainen 1929, 148.

Featured image: Paul Gauguin, printer Pola Gauguin, Te po (Night Eternal), 1893–94 (printed 1921), woodcut, 20.5 x 25.5cm, Ahlström collection, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

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Alongside the exhibition ‘Alvar Aalto – Art and the Modern Form,’ two conferences are being held at the Ateneum Art Museum: Alvar Aalto – Art and the Modern Form (in English and Finnish), 24 August; Aino Marsio-Aalto as a Designer (in Finnish), 9 September. For full details and programme visit

Ilona Harima, Buddha and Two Bodhisattvas, 1947 gouache, 24.5 x 20.5cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

Ilona Harima – On the Road to Enlightenment

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

First published as a summary of Erkki Anttonen’s article in Hätönen, Helena and Ojanperä, Riitta (eds.), Ilona Harima. Valaistumisen tiellä. Kuvataiteen keskusarkisto (Central Art Archives) 23. Finnish National Gallery / Central Art Archives, 2011. Transl. Diane Tullberg

In 2011, the Finnish National Gallery published a book on the Finnish artist Ilona Harima, whose distinctive art was strongly influenced by Theosophy, Esotericism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. A small exhibition was mounted at the Ateneum Art Museum then, too. Due to the international interest in the history of Theosophy and its relationship to the visual arts FNG Research is republishing an English summary on Harima and her art, which was first published in the above mentioned book

The art produced in Finland during the inter-war period has not yet been fully studied. In particular, the women artists of the period have been given little attention, and some who worked on the fringes of the art world may even have been forgotten. One such is Ilona Harima, who produced highly personal work diverging greatly from the dominant trends of the time.

Ilona Harima (married name Rautiala as of 1939) was born in 1911 in Vaasa on Finland’s west coast. Her parents Samuli and Anna originally had the surname Hohenthal, but changed this to Harima in 1936. Samuli Harima (1879–1962) was a successful Ostrobothnian businessman, influential in economic circles, and the wealth he accumulated allowed his daughter Ilona to pursue a career as a professional artist. In early 1918 her father’s work prompted a family move to Helsinki, and it was here that Ilona went to school, gaining her middle-school leaving certificate in 1927. The following year she began to study art in the graphics department of the Central School of Applied Arts, though she stayed there for only a couple of years at most.

Featured image: Ilona Harima, Buddha and Two Bodhisattvas, 1947. Gouache, 24.5 x 20.5cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

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