Fokus Gallery: Hannu Väisänen and Schillmark Variations

The exhibition features variations by the visual artist and author Hannu Väisänen (born 1951) of Nils Schillmark’s painting Strawberry Girl (1782). The work at the Ateneum made an indelible impression on the artist as a child. The model for the painting was a girl from a noble family, Ulrika Charlotta Armfelt. When creating the series of works, Väisänen studied the lives of both Schillmark and Armfelt.

  • 18.5.–8.8.2021
Fokus Gallery
Tickets: with a museum ticket
Picture of Hannu Väisänen's artwork Kristallen den fina (2020)
Hannu Väisänen: As the Crystal Shines (2020), detail. Owned by the Artist. Photo: Hannu Väisänen.


Hannu Väisänen has been working on his Schillmark variations series for the last three years. The roots of the works, however, date back to Väisänen’s childhood more than fifty years ago. This was when the artist first encountered Strawberry Girl during a folk-dancing trip from Oulu to Helsinki. Schillmark’s works and their Gustavian light became familiar to Väisänen later, when he was a student at the school of the Fine Arts Academy of Finland, which was housed at the Ateneum at the time.

The works of Nils Schillmark (1745–1804) fascinate Hannu Väisänen for a number of reasons. The works are examples of the evolution of Swedish-Finnish visual art and the international currents that reached the distant North in this period. Väisänen is also interested in the personal history of the rosy-cheeked Strawberry Girl, Ulrika Charlotta Armfelt (1771–1835), which was everything but rosy. Researching the backgrounds of Schillmark and Armfelt, he has touched upon, for example, the 18th-century construction of croft houses, the early-19th-century idea of marriage, the etymology of the word ‘konterfeijari’, a portraitist, and the weaving technique used for a birch-bark strawberry basket.

Hannu Väisänen’s variations have a connection to music: many composers of classical music, such as Bach, Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, have also created their own variations of seemingly simple themes. Väisänen’s paintings are based on the idea of the variation, as derived from music: the subtitles of the works could be tempo markings, such as, “lively”, “gravely”, “broadly” and “in a singing style”.

In addition to paintings, the exhibition features 18 fragments of prose written by Väisänen. In these texts, Väisänen describes his feelings when looking at Schillmark’s works, as he pictures, for example, the lucky and unlucky turns in Armfelt’s life. The text fragments explore the potential of prose to express things that could not be presented by painting.

The exhibition also features Nils Schillmark’s paintings Strawberry Girl (1782) and Still Life with a Punch Bowl (1795–1797).

Man sits on a chair, a red-coloured painting on the background, painting equipment on the foreground.
Hannu Väisänen. Photo: Hannu Väisänen

Fragments of prose

“When I stood there in front of you, Strawberry Girl, for the first time, I was wearing a soaking wet boys’ national costume, and the smell of the woollen waistcoat reminded me of rain-drenched sheep. It was the early sixties. I had agreed to go on a folk-dancing tour to Helsinki only because the horror of the performance would be rewarded by a visit to an art museum. It was pouring on the stage at the amusement park in Helsinki. I had come there on a bus with the other dancers from Oulu, where I would soon return after a hasty tour among art.

But there I was, suddenly, standing in front of you, and I couldn’t move. Calling! I had heard that word many times in my childhood but always in the context of religious devotion. My innermost voice asked: Could this be my calling? I had always had a weakness for the patterns on birch bark, and now, as the patterns became associated with the stripes on the folk costume and that mysterious smile, I was ready to take the vows of an artist. I heard my name called, but I couldn’t move. My true place was right there, in front of you, Strawberry Girl.”

Hannu Väisänen

What is Fokus Gallery?

The Fokus exhibition gallery presents concise displays, with selected artists or themes from the Ateneum collection.