Artists and teachers with their spouses in Düsseldorf in the 1850s. On the left, Werner Holmberg (1830–1860), one of the first Finnish artists to have studied in Düsseldorf. Black-and-white print on paper from the 1890s, reproduction of original print. Finnish National Gallery archive prints.

Editorial: Going Solo

Susanna Pettersson, PhD, Museum Director, Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki

 

September 22, 2016

 

This autumn the Finnish National Gallery celebrates internationally acknowledged artists such as Mona Hatoum and Amedeo Modigliani. Hatoum has a strong voice in the contemporary art scene. Her political works pinpoint the issues that we all should be aware of. Modigliani, in his turn, is known for his unique paintings and sculptures but also because of his dramatic life story: drugs and poverty combined with the deep passion to create.

Museums are platforms for exhibitions that touch our hearts and souls. However, this has not always been the case. In the 19th century, art museums throughout Europe mainly presented exhibitions of collections according to the schools, such as the Dutch and Flemish, or Renaissance art, rather than focusing on individual artists. Yet the key figures of art history were sculpted, carved, or their names inscribed on museum walls and facades all over Europe, from London to Paris and Helsinki. Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo were among the most frequently used names in this imaginary hall of fame. It’s somewhat striking that while the value and interest of exceptional artists’ careers were understood, retrospective exhibitions as we understand them today, became increasingly popular only after the mid-19th century.

The interest in exploring the careers of individual artists grew hand in hand with the development of art-historical research. Encyclopaedic art-historical presentations written by Franz Theodor Kugler, Karl Schnaase or Wilhelm Lübke, for example, provided a framework for the discourse in the 19th century. Within the same time frame the first artist monographs were published. They opened up possibilities for the better understanding of art history, and inspired museums to start focusing on exhibitions that explored one artist only. Specific sites and museums dedicated to single artists were opened: among the first were the Thorvaldsen Museum in Copenhagen (1848) Antonio Canova’s Gipsoteca in Possagno, Italy (1853) and the Ingres’ Room (1851/54), now part of the Musée Ingres in Montauban, France.

In Finland the first retrospective exhibition was organised to honour the memory of Werner Holmberg (1830–60) whose blossoming career as a landscape painter was cut short by his untimely death. The exhibition, mounted by the Finnish Art Society, was opened in September 1861 at the grand gallery of the Societetshuset in Helsinki, a venue where the upper class organised large-scale events. This time, there were no real possibilities for any research. That came later in 1890, when Finnish art historian Eliel Aspelin-Haapkylä published the first proper monograph about Werner Holmberg, in connection with the artist’s exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki.

The link between research and exhibitions is vital. It has always been, and today even more so. This is perhaps something that we should highlight even more: that the best exhibitions are always based on scholarly and ambitious research. Every phenomenon, every artist and even every work has a story to tell. And these stories can lead to life-changing thoughts and experiences.

Featured image: Artists and teachers with their spouses in Düsseldorf in the 1850s. On the left, Werner Holmberg (1830–1860), one of the first Finnish artists to have studied in Düsseldorf. Black-and-white print on paper from the 1890s, reproduction of original print. Finnish National Gallery Archive.

Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait of the Artist Léopold Survage, 1918, oil on canvas, 61,5cm x 46cm, Finnish National Gallery, Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Article: Amedeo Modigliani and the Portrait of Léopold Survage

Timo Huusko, PhD.Lic., Chief Curator, Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki

 

Published in English exclusively in FNG Research. Transl. Wif Stenger

In 1918 Amedeo Modigliani (1884–1920) painted a portrait of his fellow artist Léopold Survage (1879–1968), who was a good friend – indeed, one of Modigliani’s biographers describes Survage as one of his true artist friends after 1913, the other being Chaïm Soutine.[1]

Their friendship likely aided the success of the portrait. Modigliani, after all, was primarily interested in the model’s personality, more so than his or her external features. As a result, when he painted strangers he had to spend quite a long time getting to know them. Most often, the actual painting itself proceeded quickly.

The portrait of Survage is apparently the only oil painting by Modigliani in Finnish ownership. It shows traits that are characteristic of Modigliani’s oeuvre. The elegant use of lines from old Italian art is combined with a more painterly approach to colour in the background and clothing. The face, which is more firmly formed, stands out from the stippled background, creating an impression of a reserved but sensitive man.

In this portrait Modigliani, in his typical manner, has stretched the subject’s face and neck, while dropping the shoulder line. The model is basically recognisable when one compares it to photographs of Survage that were taken later. The work still reflects the artist’s interest in taking influences from art that were considered non-European and primitive. However the shaping of the face is not as angular as those painted in Modigliani’s portraits two or three years earlier.

On the other hand the work does not yet show the kind of mannerism sometimes brought into later paintings with the use of stylised curved lines and a smoothing of the background. Of the works in the ‘Amedeo Modigliani’ retrospective exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum (2016–17), the closest to that of Survage is probably the portrait of Gaston Modot (Centre Pompidou, Paris), which was painted in the same year, 1918.

[1] William Fifield, Modigliani. The Biography. New York: Morrow, 1976, 180.

Featured image: Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait of the Artist Léopold Survage, 1918, oil on canvas, 61,5cm x 46cm, Finnish National Gallery, Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

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