Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Gustavian Room, 2003. Photographer: Arno de la Chapelle. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery

A Collector’s Dream

FNG Research

A new book, A Bulevardi Home – Art Collectors Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff, published by the Finnish National Gallery, celebrates the centenary of the bequest of the Sinebrychoffs’ collection of artworks, furniture and other artefacts to the Finnish Government in 1921. Meanwhile, at their home – now the Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Helsinki – the exhibition ‘Collectors on Tour’ presents important collectors who have donated their collections to the FNG. FNG Research discusses the growth of house museums and artefact studies, with Kari-Paavo Kokki, a museum director emeritus and expert in historical styles and artefacts, who has also contributed an essay to the book.

The Sinebrychoffs’ bequest is housed in their house museum on Bulevardi (now part of the Finnish National Gallery), where the rooms on the first floor at the front of the building are shown as Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff had arranged them after moving there in 1904. As part of the centenary celebrations, the house museum is reopening following further renovations to the building. In the temporary exhibitions gallery below the house museum, the exhibition ‘Collectors on Tour’ spotlights significant collections belonging to the Finnish National Gallery and their influence. These collections include those of the Swedish baron Otto Wilhelm Klinckowström (1778–1850), the Italian Renaissance scholar Eliel Aspelin (1847–1917), the forestry magnate Jalo Sihtola (1882–1969), who collected both historic and contemporary works, and the Paris-based millionaire Herman Antell (1847–93) who had a taste for collecting Old Masters.

Featured image: Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Gustavian Room, 2003. Photographer: Arno de la Chapelle. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery

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Slavs and Tatars, Prayway, 2012, installation. Courtesy the artists and Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin Photo: Bernard Kahrmann

Living Encounters: Creating a Landmark ­Contemporary Art Show

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

Putting together a survey show that takes the pulse of the global art world is a complex task. Ahead of the ARS22 exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Gill Crabbe discusses the research and curatorial processes involved with Museum Director Leevi Haapala and Chief Curator João Laia

There’s an old saying that we can become what we dwell on, and this springs to mind following meeting Leevi Haapala, Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma and the Chief Curator João Laia. They have been working on the latest in a series of exhibitions, which are held every four to five years in Helsinki to test the water of the contemporary arts scene both nationally and internationally. Each edition of this long-established show is eagerly awaited, with its selection of around 40–50 artists ranging from emerging Finnish artists to global icons, and expectations are high. Hearing Haapala and Laia speak about their vision for ARS22 and the research processes involved, it seems clear that the two of them have been in many ways embodying or exemplifying the vision they have evolved for this landmark exhibition. They are walking the talk.

For the theme around which ARS22 is conceived is mutual empathy, neatly encapsulated in the show’s title ‘Living Encounters’. Looking at the world, as artists do, it is easy to see the processes of social fragmentation (accelerated by Covid-19) and increasing polarisation within the discourses and issues of today, be that politics, ecology, technology, belief systems, gender or race issues – ‘concerns,’ says Haapala ‘that contribute to determining our actions in collective and private spheres’. The vision for ARS22 centres on presenting artworks that individually, collectively or in dialogue with one another, offer the possibility to question or obviate such divisions. With this approach ARS22 sets out to create a ‘renewed way of thinking which acknowledges the complexities of the world as fruitful’ rather than divisive, and provides a ‘forum for sharing experiences and examining issues that touch us all’.

Featured image: Slavs and Tatars, Prayway, 2012, installation. Courtesy the artists and Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin
Photo: Bernard Kahrmann

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Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Lake View, 1901, oil on canvas, 84cm x 57cm Photo: Finnish National Gallery /Hannu Pakarinen

Observations on the Painting Technique and Materials Used in the Painting of Lake View, by Akseli Gallen-Kallela

Katariina Johde, Conservator, BA, and Hanne Tikkala, MA, PhD Student, Senior Researcher, Conservation Unit, Finnish National Gallery

A museum visitor observes an artwork on a museum wall on average for a few seconds or minutes. The conservator quickly checks the condition of a painting before and after every exhibition to make sure the condition has remained unchanged during the exhibition. The condition report, with detailed drawings, descriptions and photos, takes perhaps half an hour to make. Would new and noticeable information come to light if one were able to look at the painting for hours with bare eyes, microscopes, in different electromagnetic wavelengths, with different instruments and cameras?

In our day-to-day work as a conservator and a materials researcher, we make observations of the structure and the surface of the paintings in more detail than a regular viewer. In this article we present some aspects regarding the painting technique and the materials of the Finnish artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s (1865-1931) painting Lake View, from 1901[1] (Fig. 1). Usually, this painting is exhibited in the main collection exhibition in the Ateneum Art Museum and is a very popular work that draws in our museum visitors. In recent years it has often been loaned to exhibitions in Finland and around Europe. Every time it has returned to the Ateneum the research has continued and as a result the painting has been studied very carefully, especially over the past two years.

Originally, we decided to study Lake View more deeply because of its beautiful and informative radiograph (Fig. 2). We had already X-rayed a large number of Gallen-Kallela’s works but as we were analysing the radiograph of Lake View, we started to recognise characteristic features in the brushwork, which appeared repeatedly in his paintings. The radiograph and other analytical photographs of the painting were very illuminating and strengthened our understanding of the artist’s painting technique. However, important new information was also found just by looking at the painting very closely with the naked eye. Markings on the edges and on the reverse of the painting gave us information which led us to visit the archives and to investigate his original painting materials.

[1] Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Lake View, oil on canvas, 84cm x 57cm, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, A-2010-173.

Featured image: Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Lake View, 1901, oil on canvas, 84cm x 57cm, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen
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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Suvi Sysi, Caused Reflection, 2017, installation comprising surplus papers from the printing process, monotype; dimensions vary Photo: Suvi Sysi

Body, Trace, Perception

Saara Hacklin, PhD, Curator, Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma

This article was originally published online in Finnish only as ‘Ruumis, jälki, havainto’ in Martta Heikkilä and Annu Vertanen (eds.), Printed matters: merkitysten kerroksia. Helsinki: Academy of Fine Arts, The University of the Arts Helsinki, 2021[1]

How does the artist’s body become a medium and a carrier? How does an author explore his or her relationship to the world by submitting to it? In this article, I examine the practice of five young printmakers: Roma Auskalnyte, Inka Bell, Inma Herrera, Emma Peura and Suvi Sysi. They were all born in the 1980s and 1990s and studied at the Academy of Fine Arts, University of the Arts Helsinki. The works they make take various forms: sculptural installations, performances, videos and reliefs. Yet all share a strong connection with the tradition of printmaking.

In this article I investigate the ways in which the relationship to the human body is reflected in their artworks. From this viewpoint I trace a relationship to the world, where the artist is exposed to different materialities and open to the surrounding world. The artworks discussed bring forth themes of perception, memories and different materialities, as well as questions of language and technology. What unites the artworks is their ability to reach towards the other, be it a matter of thinking in other ways, looking at history from another angle and thinking about our way of being in another way.

[1] To access the book in Finnish, visit http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi-fe202102053929.

Featured image: Suvi Sysi, Caused Reflection, 2017, installation comprising surplus papers from the printing process, monotype; dimensions vary
Photo: Suvi Sysi

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Isaak Rabinovich, The Martian City. Still from the silent film Aelita, 1924, directed by Yakov Protazanov. Courtesy of the BFI National Archive

Gothic Modern Sensibilities: Vaults of Matter and Spirit via a Russian Arch

Dr Jeremy Howard, Deputy Head of School of Art History, University of St Andrews, Scotland

Strange as it may seem Gothic never died. Appropriately perhaps it has been living in an art-historical netherworld where the struggling forces of formal modernism and social realism seem to have reigned for nigh on a century. Yet the very struggle of these forces belies the place, and strength, of the Gothic: in their attempts to suppress it, the different parties acknowledged both its grip and its mystery. Let our conception of the Gothic Modern be one of vaults. For vaults, as we know, are underground chambers for the living, dead and treasured, as well as arched structures and the heavens. The pointed rib vault, from four-part to stellar and fan, represents the dynamic span of Gothic. Of course vault also means vigorous leap and, with that, transcendence. Here we focus on Gothic Modern’s Russian vaults.

We can conceive our vaults as vessels of matter and spirit. On the one hand they are grounded in craft and collectivity, this while simultaneously being celestially aspirant, a romantic questing for spiritual uplift. On the other, they are dark and decadent, an irrational foray into horror and descent. They can offer the sublime and the grotesque. Urged on by the writings of Wilhelm Worringer, Richard Sterba, Josef Strzygowski and Karl Scheffler, among many others, our vaults are identifiable in artworks from seemingly disparate movements and centres. So far from just spanning inflections of Expressionism and Surrealism, they cross Cubism, Constructivism and the International Style, while deriving much of their esprit from Symbolism and Art Nouveau. In the spirit of the Gothic Modern vault let us move backwards to move forwards, let us spring from a subversive alliance of bold post-revolutionary avant-garde architectonics to fin-de-siècle painterly anxieties and apparitions (and back).

Featured image: Isaak Rabinovich (1894-1961), The Martian City, still from the silent film Aelita, 1924, directed by Yakov Protazanov. Courtesy of the BFI National Archive

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Call for Research Interns 2022

Finnish National Gallery
Call for Research Interns 2022

The Finnish National Gallery wishes to stimulate new interest in research topics based on its resources and collections and possible forthcoming exhibitions in its three museums. It also wishes to be an active and innovative partner in collaborating with the academic scene in reinforcing humanistic values and the importance of understanding the world and human culture by creating new, meaningful and relevant knowledge.

For this purpose the Finnish National Gallery organises a research internship programme for master’s-level art or cultural history students internationally.

The 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 it wishes to support students who choose to write their master’s level theses on subjects based on physical collections and objects, archive material and data and develop their practical skills for utilising archival material in research.

In 2022 the Finnish National Gallery is prepared to receive three research interns.

The internship period is three months with the intern under contract to the Finnish National Gallery. The salary is equivalent to the salary of university trainees.

The intern chooses in advance the material of the Finnish National Gallery collections that he/she wishes to study, and agrees on studying it during the internship period. It is desirable that the material will form part of the intern’s thesis. The intern is required, during the period of their internship, to write a text in English, based on the material and the research done at the National Gallery. The text may be published in one of the sections of the FNG Research web magazine.

Each intern will have an in-house professional tutor at the Finnish National Gallery. The tutor and the intern will meet on average weekly.

The Finnish National Gallery is not responsible for the academic supervision of the intern’s master’s thesis. The role of the National Gallery is to support the intern’s skills in collections research practices.

Are you interested? If so, please send your application by e-mail to fngr@nationalgallery.fi or by post to FNG Research, Senior Researcher Hanna-Leena Paloposki, Kaivokatu 2, 00100 Helsinki, Finland.

Applications can be written in English, Finnish or Swedish.

The deadline for applications is 31 December 2021 and the appointments will be announced by 21 January 2022.

The interns are appointed by the FNG Research editorial board.

For more information about the application process and programme, please click on the link below:

How to apply for the research internship programme at the Finnish National Gallery for master’s-level art and cultural history students >>

Ilya Repin, Double Portrait of Natalia Nordmann and Ilya Repin, 1903, oil on canvas, 78.5cm x 130cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenny Nurminen

Editorial: Past, Present and Future

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

 

31 May 2021

 

This edition of FNG Research is looking to the past, present and future. The future is opened up in two major research projects – ‘Gothic Modern’ and ‘Pioneering women artists’. The two initiators of the Gothic Modern project, Chief Curator, Dr Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, from the Ateneum Art Museum and Dr Juliet Simpson, Professor of Art History at Coventry University, are spearheading an international endeavour to rethink the development of a specifically Nordic Modernism at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, having its inspiration in the northern Gothic and Renaissance. The project is concentrating on illuminating the Gothic as a core fascination for late 19th- and early 20th-century art that crossed cultural borders, transcended nationalism and straddled war and its aftermath. The sources of inspiration for artists of that time can be traced to some exhibitions and to specific artists, such as Lucas Cranach and Hans Holbein.

Influences were also a political issue, as shown by Dr Krista Kodres, who in her article sheds light on the Estonian historiographical undertones shaping the understanding of Gothic art and architecture in Estonia. In her article, which is an extended abstract of her lecture given at the Gothic Modern knowledge sharing workshop in March of this year, she is asking how in different periods art-historical writing has formulated the understanding of cultural heritage. The basic question she asks is whether the artistic results of medieval and Renaissance art were nationally unique, or were they just copying the ‘trend-setting centres’, located mainly in German cities. The aim of some local art historians in Estonia was to demonstrate that the Baltic-Nordic region created its own independent art forms, an idea that challenged the view that Hanseatic German art was the predominant influence in this region.

Dr Anne-Maria Pennonen presents the recently launched international research project concerning women artists in the mid-19th century from Finland, Nordic and Baltic countries and Germany. What were the routes of inspiration for these artists, where did they study and what kind of networks did they form during their years of study?

In this issue we also present the results of a three-month research internship at the Finnish National Gallery undertaken by MA student Emmi Halmesvirta, who examines a much more recent artist, namely Juhana Blomstedt (1937–2010). Halmesvirta took as her starting point the archive material and sketches in the Finnish National Gallery collection related to Juhana Blomstedt’s career in the period 1970–80. Blomstedt’s art-theoretical thinking during the 1970s seems to revolve around questions of form, content, expression, abstraction, subjectivity, truth and optics. In his art he was somehow distancing himself from the high modernist demand for purity, even if his art could be categorised as being part of the constructivist tradition.

The Director of the Sinebrychoff Art Museum Kirsi Eskelinen writes about the provenance of a painting by Jacopo Bassano (c. 1510–92), Virgin and Child with John the Baptist and St Anthony the Abbot, which is housed in the museum’s collection. It is a republication of her article from 1992 but in connection with it, we are for the first time publishing images of the details on the back of the frame moulding. These give some important clues about the provenance of the artwork. The Museum has plans for a monographic exhibition on Jacopo Bassano in the near future, which makes it even more relevant to republish and expand on this article.

Two articles in this issue are focusing on the current exhibition of Ilya Repin at the Ateneum Art Museum: Chief Curator Timo Huusko’s essay on the Russian artist’s relationship to Finland, and an updated article by curator Helena Hätönen on the archival material related to Repin in the Archive Collections of the Finnish National Gallery, first published in the catalogue of the Kadriorg Art Museum’s Repin exhibition which took place in Tallinn in 2013.

The Ateneum Art Museum’s curators Hanne Selkokari and Anu Utriainen have been interviewed in connection with the exhibition ‘Among Forests and Lakes: Landscape Masterpieces from the Finnish National Gallery’, which is now on display at the National Nordic Museum in Seattle.

Dr Harri Kalha’s interview in this issue is connected with the exhibition of Magnus Enckell, which unfortunately had to be closed just a few weeks after its opening in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Fortunately, this exhibition is continuing in the Tampere Art Museum in a slightly smaller version this autumn.

I hope you will enjoy these diverse articles from different sectors of art history.

Featured image: Ilya Repin, Double Portrait of Natalia Nordmann and Ilya Repin, 1903, oil on canvas, 78.5cm x 130cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenny Nurminen
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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Featured image: Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Death and the Flower, woodcut, 9.5cm x 5.5cm Antell Collections, Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

Gothic Modern

Albrecht Dürer, St Sebastian Bound to the Tree, 1500–02, engraving, 11.5cm x 7.1cm Antell Collections, Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen
Albrecht Dürer, St Sebastian Bound to the Tree, 1500–02, engraving, 11.5cm x 7.1cm
Antell Collections, Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen Creative Commons – Copyright free

The international research and exhibition project Gothic Modern has been launched by the Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. The project schedule spans 2018 to 2025. ‘Gothic Modern: from Medieval and Northern Renaissance to Dark, Emotive, Uncanny Modern Art’ explores the pivotal importance of Gothic art for the artistic modernisms of the late 19th and early 20th centuries

  • An ambitious new approach to modern art focusing on the untold story of Nordic and Northern European medieval reinventions from the 1890s to the fall of the Weimar Republic.
  • Illuminates the Gothic as a core fascination for late 19th and early 20th-century art, crossing cultural borders, transcending nationalism, straddling war and its aftermath.
  • Reveals a hidden aspect of the work of Edvard Munch and Käthe Kollwitz through their deep attraction to the art of the ‘Gothic’ past, as well as how this resonated for their contemporaries, such as Theodor Kittelsen, Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Hugo Simberg and Helene Schjerfbeck.
  • Explores how these artists were inspired by medieval art through pilgrimages, eroticism and the ‘Dance of Death’ to create powerful new expressions of artistic and cultural identity: of sexuality and trauma; death and reconnection.
  • The focus is on major fin-de-siècle and early 20th-century Nordic, German and Russian artworks alongside rare medieval and Northern Renaissance objects
  • A compelling exploration of the Gothic for the 21st century, concerning the individual, gender, difference and transnational community, entwined with the dark, the emotive and uncanny, as well as connected cultures, places and new spaces of art.
    (Juliet Simpson, 2021)

Guest Curator
Professor Dr Juliet Simpson, Professor of Art History, and Chair of Visual Art and Cultural Memory, Coventry University, UK, juliet.simpson@coventry.ac.uk

Project Leader, Ateneum Art Museum – Finnish National Gallery
Dr Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, Chief Curator of exhibitions and research, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki, abonsdor@fng.fi

Partners
National Museum, Oslo and Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin


Hugo Simberg, Boy from Säkkijärvi, 1897, oil on canvas, 31.3cm x 43.5cm Ester and Jalo Sihtola Fine Arts Foundation Donation, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Janne Mäkinen
Hugo Simberg, Boy from Säkkijärvi, 1897, oil on canvas, 31.3cm x 43.5cm
Ester and Jalo Sihtola Fine Arts Foundation Donation, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Janne Mäkinen
Creative Commons – Copyright free

Gothic Modern News and Upcoming Events

Forthcoming – Autumn 2021

  • ‘Gothic Connections and Connectors – Afterlives of Medieval Art in the Baltic and Nordic Countries: 1870s–1920s’, international research conference, organised by Prof. Juliet Simpson and Dr Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, in the Ateneum Art Museum / Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki, Autumn 2021

Gothic Modern Publications – FNG Research New Online Series

Featured image: Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Death and the Flower, woodcut, 9.5cm x 5.5cm
Antell Collections, Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis
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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Featured image: Bernt Notke, Dance of Death, end of the 15th century, oil on canvas, 160cm x 750cm, from St Nicolas’ Church, Tallinn, and now housed at the city’s Art Museum of Estonia Photo: Abrget47j / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Writing the Gothic: Defining the Character of Medieval Heritage in Estonia from the late 19th Century to the 1930s

Dr Krista Kodres, Professor, Estonian Academy of Arts, Tallinn

This is a detailed abstract of the lecture given by Professor Kodres at the online Knowledge Sharing Workshop of the Gothic Modern Research Project, on 25 March 2021

How were different art-historiographical cultures involved in shaping the understanding of Gothic art and architecture in Estonia, a country that in the late 19th and early 20th century was part of tsarist Russia and which then, in 1918, became an independent republic? In my presentation, I also ask what kind of life-world the various art-historical interpretations created in the imagination: how did they define the spatial and temporal cultural belonging of different nationalities within Estonia.

The first art-historical surveys of Estonian local heritage were written by Baltic-German art historians. Artistic and architectural production was systematised and ordered into periods on the basis of formal stylistics. The Gothic style found its place from the start, and it also coincided with the beginning of Danish-German colonisation and the Christianisation of the Old Livonian territories in the 13th century, thus forming the foundation for all of the subsequent artistic development, i.e. Estonian art history. At the same time however, the Gothic in Estonia has been viewed as a belated and less artistic peripheral version of the German spirit. In order to overcome this unhappy conclusion, a special rhetoric was elaborated.

The first modern art historian who had to face these issues was Wilhelm Neumann (1849–1919), who was also active as an architect, and who in his later years was the Director of the Latvian Art Museum in Riga. In his book Grundriss einer Geschichte der bildenden Künste und des Kunstegewerbes in Liv-, Est- und Kurland (Reval 1887), Neumann wrote about the ‘slow becoming’ and ‘delayed arrival’ of the Gothic style because of the distance ‘from trend-setting centres and the conservative character of the inhabitants’. Therefore, he continued, ‘the forms never reached the clarity and richness of ideas and noble sublimity that is characteristic of the South [of Europe]’. In order to balance this aesthetic inequality, Neumann connected the development of Gothic forms to the use of local materials and thus made the architecture correspond to given special circumstances: ‘He (das Land) understood how to create new art forms that correspond to the nature of local materials…’ Hence, it is the Land and its people who give art-historical meaning to monuments. In the booklet he wrote for the local clergy, who were the keepers of medieval church buildings, Neumann crystallises this meaning: ‘Monuments of art and architecture are witnesses of the historical past of our homeland. The purpose of their maintenance is to preserve our consciousness of belonging to our cosy homeland, and to keep the memory of our ancestors alive’ (Merkbüchlein für Denkmalpflege auf dem Lande, Riga 1911). Accordingly, in Neumann’s view, all art-historical objects are important as material instruments of identity; they possess the ability to reflect history and affect feelings; they induce a sense of belonging. At the same time, the Gothic was determined to be the strongest signifier of ‘German power’ (Kraft) by the man who had greatly inspired Neumann, the German art historian Wilhelm Lübke.

Featured image: Bernt Notke, Dance of Death, late 15th century, oil on canvas, 160cm x 750cm, from St Nicolas’ Church, Tallinn, and now housed at the city’s Art Museum of Estonia
Photo: Abrget47j / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

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Ilya Repin and Vera Repina (centre, front) with their neighbours at Repin’s 85th birthday celebrations in Kuokkala on 5 August 1929. Vasily Levi is third from left. Photographer unknown. Lauri Haataja Repin Collection. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery

The Artist, his Admirers, his Dealers and Inheritors – Ilya Repin and his Career in the Republic of Finland

Timo Huusko, Ph.Lic., Chief Curator, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum

This is a revised and extended version of Timo Huusko’s article ‘Ilya Repin’s early art exhibitions in Finland’, published in Anne-Maria Pennonen (ed.), Ilya Repin. Ateneum Publications Vol. 147. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, 2021, 103–27. Transl. Don McCracken

Ilya Repin was faced with a new, unexpected situation when the October Revolution of 1917 severed the close ties between St Petersburg and Kuokkala in Finland. He had become accustomed to many changes in the course of his long life, but up until then these had been mainly due to his own decisions, especially his bold departure from Chuguev to St Petersburg to study art in 1863, then moving on to Moscow in 1877 and exhibiting with the non-academic Peredvizhniki (Wanderers) group. Repin returned to St Petersburg in 1882, and in 1892 he became first a teacher at the Imperial Academy of Arts, and later its Director. He also acquired a place in the countryside near Vitebsk in Zdrawneva, Belarus, in 1892, and subsequently entered into a relationship with Natalia Nordmann, with whom he purchased a house in Kuokkala on the Karelian Isthmus in 1899. In 1903, he moved permanently to Kuokkala and two years later retired from the Academy. These decisions were all made as a result of more-or-less conscious judgments that influenced his quality of life and relationship networks.

Things changed in 1918, however, and Repin was no longer in control. Nordmann (1863–1914) had died of pneumonia in Switzerland four years earlier, and the border between Finland and Russia was closed in April 1918 in the wake of the October Revolution and the Finnish Civil War, leaving Repin a 73-year-old Russian emigré in the newly-independent Finland. His property in Russia was confiscated, and for nearly three years he was virtually ignorant of what was happening in Soviet Russia.[1] On top of all that, his right hand had become partially paralysed, preventing him from working properly after 1903. He lived in his studio house, Penates (Penaty) with two servants and his daughter Nadya (Nadezhda), who had learning disabilities. His son Yury lived nearby with his family and his eldest daughter Vera moved to Penates from the Soviet Union in 1922. His third daughter Tatyana lived in Zdrawneva until 1930.

By this point Repin had lost his former network of exhibitors and buyers, along with the Russian intelligentsia and circle of patrons that had given him job opportunities and also provided inspiring food for thought. In fact, Repin had cut himself off from the St Petersburg elite after moving to Kuokkala in 1903, although at that time a St Petersburg newspaper had reported he was still voted the fourth best-known Russian after Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Gorky.[2] The way that he distanced himself can be seen, for example, in the fact that he became interested in the free co-operative movement and a self-sufficient economy in the spirit of Tolstoy, as well as in democratic, non-hierarchical structures and ideas about living in harmony with nature in general. Repin and Nordmann’s weekly receptions at Penates on Wednesdays offered only vegetarian food and self-service at the dining table, although that did not stop prominent Russian writers and artists visiting him until the outbreak of the First World War. While Repin opposed new art trends, such as the aestheticism of the Mir iskusstva (World of Art) group and especially the early avant-garde, nevertheless in the mid-1910s he became acquainted with, for example, Vladimir Mayakovsky and David Burliuk, whom he met at the villa of his neighbour, the author Korney Chukovsky.[3]

[1] Elizabeth Kridl Valkenier. Ilya Repin and the World of Russian Art. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990, 186–87. According to Tito Colliander, Repin last visited Russia in November 1917. See Tito Colliander. Ilja Repin, ukrainalainen taiteilija. Helsinki: Tammi, 1944, 331.

[2] ‘Ett och annat’, Hufvudstadsbladet, 4 July 1903.

[3] Olli Valkonen. ‘Ilja Repin ja Suomi’, in Ilja Repin. Exhibition catalogue. Helsinki : Taidekeskus Retretti, 1995, 38–43. After the revolution, Chukovsky remained in Soviet Russia, where he became a major children’s writer. He was also a significant person in Repin’s life as editor of Repin’s memoirs, which the artist began to compile in Kuokkala. The memoirs were completed as early as 1916, but were not published in the Soviet Union until 1937.

Featured image: Ilya Repin and Vera Repina (centre, front) with their neighbours at Repin’s 85th birthday celebrations in Kuokkala on 5 August 1929. Vasily Levi is third from left. Photographer unknown. Lauri Haataja Repin Collection. Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery

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