From 27 October 2017 to 25 February 2018, the Ateneum Art Museum will host the exhibition The von Wright Brothers. The artist brothers Magnus, Wilhelm and Ferdinand von Wright, who lived during the period of the Grand Duchy of Finland, are known as painters of landscapes, still lifes and nature subjects, and as scientific illustrators. The brothers’ works will be accompanied by new art by the photographic artist Sanna Kannisto (born 1974) and the conceptual artist Jussi Heikkilä (born 1952). The exhibition is part of the programme celebrating the centenary of Finland’s independence.
This exhibition will introduce new perspectives, as it explores the historical significance of the von Wright brothers for Finnish art, culture and science. More than 300 works will be on display at the exhibition, which will occupy the entire third floor of the museum. The exhibition will feature oil paintings, watercolours, prints and sketches from both the Ateneum collection and other Finnish museums and private collections. Exhibits will also include birds stuffed by Magnus von Wright, courtesy of the Finnish Museum of Natural History. The chief curator of the exhibition is Anne-Maria Pennonen. The Ateneum last staged an exhibition of works by the von Wright brothers in 1982.
The exhibition will coincide with the release of a book, The von Wright Brothers. Art, Science and Life, published by the Ateneum, that presents a wealth of new research on the brothers. The book is edited by the curator Anne-Maria Pennonen and the special researcher Erkki Anttonen, and it will be available in Finnish, Swedish and English.
Father’s hunting hobby sparked an interest in nature
The von Wright brothers grew up in a manor in Haminalahti, Kuopio. The brothers’ interest in nature originated in the hobby of hunting, as practised by their father, Major Henrik Magnus von Wright. Skilled hunters, the brothers began to document the birds they caught.
The eldest of the brothers, Magnus von Wright (1805–1868), known especially for his landscape paintings, was an influential cultural figure in Helsinki. He worked as a teacher at the University of Helsinki drawing school and as an expert at the Finnish Art Society, in which capacity he contributed to the establishment of the Ateneum collection. In his paintings of Helsinki, such as View from Katajanokka (1868) and Annankatu on a Cold Winter Morning (1868), he documented the changes taking place in the city.
Wilhelm von Wright (1810–1887) was active especially in Stockholm and on the island of Orust on the west coast of Sweden. He worked as a scientific illustrator for the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Wilhelm assisted his brother Magnus in illustrating the book Svenska foglar, presenting Swedish birdlife: the work contains 182 coloured drawings, illustrating birds with scientific precision. According to today’s ornithologists, the illustrations created by the brothers are still accurate. Wilhelm suffered paralysis, which cut his career shorter than that of the other brothers.
The most famous, and youngest, of the brothers is Ferdinand von Wright (1822–1906). Ferdinand is known especially for his paintings of birds, such as The Fighting Capercaillies (1886) and An Eagle-Owl Seizes a Hare (1860). He enjoyed the longest career of the brothers, and later attained the status of an old master and earned respect from young artists.
After being on display at the Ateneum, the exhibition will, in 2018, travel to the Kuopio Art Museum and the Tikanoja Art Museum in Vaasa.
The partner for the von Wright Brothers exhibition is the Helsinki Zoo.