Lars-Gunnar Nordström, Blue Moment, 1948–49, colour woodcut, 26.5cm x 40cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

Editorial: Fresh Insights from a New Look at our National Collections

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


3 April, 2023


As I write this Editorial, the Ateneum Art Museum is about to reopen. Following a year of renovation work the museum will look different; in addition to replacing the entire air-conditioning system, we have renovated the public spaces in the basement with a new-look museum shop and other services in the court area, a new toilet area and newly organised tickethall. The grand staircase has been repainted and cleaned; the Ateneum auditorium has a new technical equipment and the workshop a new interior design.

This renovation period also gave us the opportunity to rework the collection display and we reopen the museum with our new collection exhibition ‘A Question of Time’. This thematic display aims to challenge the way in which the collection of the Finnish National Gallery has traditionally been viewed. Instead of the usual chronological approach, ‘A Question of Time’ presents the collection through four themes – The Age of Nature, Images of a People, Modern Life and Art and Power – that range across different eras and draw on today’s burning issues. There are questions hovering in the background. How has the Ateneum collection been built up over the years? How can it be a collection for everyone? In this edition of FNG Research we present the collection display through the lens of an interview with Anne-Maria Pennonen and Mariia Niskavaara, the two curators of the theme The Age of Nature which we have chosen as the most urgent issue of our time to be foregrounded in ‘A Question of Time’.

A new biography in English about the art and life of Helene Schjerfbeck also challenges the traditional view of one of Finland’s most beloved artists. Art historian Marja Lahelma’s online book Helene Schjerfbeck: An Artist’s Life is published alongside this edition of FNG Research.

Our spring edition highlights two exhibition projects, namely the upcoming Albert Edelfelt exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum and the current exhibition and research project on Alexander Lauréus, held at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum. Two articles are dedicated to Edelfelt. First, in ‘A Discovered Painting: Albert Edelfelts Study for Woman from Arles, the art historian Laura Gutman spotlights a painting that was not known before and had not been mentioned in Bertel Hintze’s authoritative catalogue raisonné. In her complementary article, ‘How Albert Edelfelt’s Portrait of Mme Dani Turned into Study for Woman from Arles, Tuulikki Kilpinen analyses the same painting from the conservator’s viewpoint.

Turning to the Sinebrychoff Art Museum’s programme, Gill Crabbe sheds light on a project that led to the current exhibition of Alexander Lauréus, in an interview with the curators Ira Westergård and Lotta Nylund, whose doctoral thesis on Lauréus has been the research base for the show.

The philosophical questions behind conservation and restoration form the subject of Ari Tanhuanpää’s article ‘On the Will of Preservation’, also in this issue. The concerns he contemplates are especially pertinent today, not least when the cultural heritage of Ukraine is being destroyed in the wake of hideous war.

While Ari Tanhuanpää’s article differs in subject from Tuulikki Kilpinen’s, both underline different aspects of the importance of conservation. Kilpinen’s case study shows how essential it can be to collaborate with art historians in the process of authenticating an artwork. Together with Laura Gutman’s research we can now prove that the painting sold in 2019 at an auction in Paris is an authentic work by Albert Edelfelt. In addition, the painting, which was earlier considered to be a portrait of Mme Dani, is in fact a study (1891–93) for Edelfelt’s painting Woman from Arles (1893).

Tanhuanpää’s philosophical and deep pondering upon the meaning and premises of conservation is an important statement for the preservation of culture in general. In introducing the ideas of Cesare Brandi, who bases his thinking on semiotics and phenomenology, Tanhuanpää points to the importance of considering an artwork as more than its materials and how it should thus be safeguarded. The art object remains self-identical across time, even if damaged by time. And it is just there that conservation is needed, to maintain the authenticity and originality of the object’s ontological essence. It means preserving an artwork’s pure form. This, according to Tanhuanpää, is a paradox as artworks are mostly materials and a conservator is dealing mainly with materials. But while taking care of its materials, a conservator succeeds at the same time in maintaining the essence of the piece. From there comes the imperative to maintain the materials for as long as possible. Tanhuanpää discusses whether the Kantian categorical imperative from which Brandi derives his thinking can be applied to conservation.

When I read the interview with Mariia Niskavaara and Anne-Maria Pennonen alongside Ari Tanhuanpää’s article, somehow they seem to be connected. Both address the meaning of safeguarding art, to make us remember and but also to make us witnesses in time. The points both these articles make are basically the same. While conserving artworks we, as humans, have the chance to prevent something spiritually and intellectually invaluable from disappearing, in the same way that with the theme of The Age of Nature, the museum attempts to contribute to activities that could slow down climate change and ultimately avert catastrophe.

Finally, we are delighted to announce the results of the selection process of our two research interns for 2023. We look forward to publishing the outcomings of their research next year.

Featured image: Lars-Gunnar Nordström, Blue Moment, 1948–49, colour woodcut, 26.5cm x 40cm.  Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

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Albert Edelfelt, Study for Woman from Arles, 1891–93, oil on canvas, 41.5cm x 32cm Albert Edelfelt Association, Paris Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

A Discovered Painting: Albert Edelfelt’s Study for Woman from Arles

Laura Gutman, Diploma of Advanced Research of the Ecole du Louvre, art historian, independent curator

On 22 November 2019, the Albert Edelfelt Association[1] bought a portrait in an auction organised by Morand & Morand at the Hôtel Drouot, in Paris. The painting, which had remained in France since its creation, was not listed in Bertel Hintze’s catalogue raisonné of the Finnish artist Albert Edelfelt (1854–1905), which serves as the authoritative reference book on the artist. The oil painting was described as a portrait of Marie Félicité Dani, wife of Francis de Saint-Vidal, and signed Albert Edelfelt. The indication of provenance was the Dani family estate.[2]

As the work was not catalogued, a material and historical study was undertaken to ensure its authenticity, as well as ascertaining its place in the painter’s oeuvre. In April 2021, when travel became possible again after the Covid-19 pandemic, the painting was brought to Finland to be conserved and studied by Tuulikki Kilpinen, a member of the Albert Edelfelt research team.[3]

This essay retraces the historical research, from false leads to coincidences, that made it possible to retrieve the painting into Albert Edelfelt’s production. It leads to and sheds light on another little-studied work by the artist, preserved in Finland. The two paintings are being reunited on the occasion of the Ateneum Art Museum’s Albert Edelfelt exhibition in the spring of 2023.

False leads and valuable information

The investigation of the model and her husband in the early stages of the research yielded some more information. Marie Félicité Dani (1864–1950) was a sought-after model, who posed for several artists. In 1895, she married Francis Porral de Saint-Vidal (1840–1900), a renowned French academic sculptor who exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Français between 1875 and 1898.

The talent of Saint-Vidal had already been noticed in 1865 by Alexandre Dumas fils. The writer introduced the young sculptor to his renowned friend Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827–75), who became his professor. Saint-Vidal was indebted to Carpeaux’s neo-rococo style and is considered his follower. He produced several portraits of celebrities (e.g. Ludvig van Beethoven, Hector Berlioz, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, and the soprano Jeanne Granier), works which were appreciated for their expressive power, as well as a monument dedicated to the painter Alphonse de Neuville (1889).[4]

Originally based in Bordeaux, Francis de Saint-Vidal was an elected member of the National Academy of Science, Literature and Fine Arts of Bordeaux from 1876 until 1882, when he moved to Paris. The Five Parts of the World, a monumental fountain placed under the Eiffel Tower during the World Fair of 1889, was the breakthrough for the artist, who was rewarded with a bronze medal. He exhibited for the last time in 1898 and died in 1900 in Riom; Marie Félicité Dani was his widow.[5]

The name of Saint-Vidal was forgotten after his bronze monuments were melted down during the German occupation to be reused in the Second World War. A marble fountain placed in Setif, in Algeria, has been vandalised in recent years for its depiction of female nudity. The loss has ultimately created a renewed interest in this forgotten sculptor.[6]

The private life of Saint-Vidal had been quite turbulent. Married in Bordeaux in 1869 to Mathilde Hernozant, he divorced her in 1890. He lived in an open relationship with Irma Antoinette Delmas, and also with Anna-Marie Tréouret de Kerstrat[7]. Children were born from each union.

Marie Félicité Dani and Francis Porral de Saint-Vidal were married on 29 June 1895 at the French Consulate in Florence. Their marriage was registered at the end of the year in Nice[8], the city of her birth. The desire to avoid scandal may explain these circumstances, the two spouses being divorced. Marie Félicité Dani had divorced Louis-Zacharie Dalaise in 1894, with whom she had two children.

The initial hypothesis of a link between Saint-Vidal and Edelfelt, as suggested by the auction house when revealing the painting, was misleading. There seems to have been no connection between the two artists other than their common appreciation of the beauty of Marie Félicité Dani. It is unclear how the painting entered the family estate, whether it was a gift or a purchase due to the quality of the portrait.

[1] The Albert Edelfelt Association has been set up in Paris by the French relatives of Albert Edelfelt, descended from the Swedish line of the artist’s father, Carl Albert Edelfelt. Dedicated to improving the knowledge and appreciation of the art and life of Albert Edelfelt, it reaches out to, among others, the French-speaking audience on the internet: (accessed 18 February 2023).

[2] Morand & Morand, Commissaires-priseurs [auctioneer], Drouot, Vente intérieurs parisiens, 22 November 2019, lot 109.

[3] See Tuulikki Kilpinen’s article ‘How Albert Edelfelt’s Portrait of Mme Dani  turned out to be Study for Woman from Arles’ in this same issue 1/2023 of FNG Research, The Edelfelt research team – Edelfelt expert, art historian Marina Catani, specialist scientist Seppo Hornytzkyj and conservator Tuulikki Kilpinen – has studied Albert Edelfelt’s artworks many times during the past decades and also published articles on their research.

[4] Prosper Georges Marcelin Bouniceau-Gesmon. M. F. de Saint-Vidal et sa fontaine, étude critique. Paris: Alphonse Lemerre Editeur, 1889.

[5] Registre des décès [Death Register] [6 E 3253]. Archives départementales du Puy-de-Dôme, (accessed 10 May 2022).

[6] Armand Vial. La Belle de la source. Alger: Tafat Editions, 2021.

[7] I am grateful to the sculptor Laurent Davidson for information on his great-grandfather. Laurent Davidson’s email to the author, 9 May 2022.

[8] Registre des mariages [Wedding Register], Nice 1895. Archives départementales des Alpes-Maritimes, (accessed 15 May 2022).

Featured image: Albert Edelfelt, Study for Woman from Arles, 1891–93, oil on canvas, 41.5cm x 32cm
Albert Edelfelt Association, Paris
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

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