The heirs of the painter and graphic artist Lennart Segerstråle (1892–1975) donated 18 paintings and 24 prints by Segerstråle to the Ateneum Art Museum in November 2016. Six of these paintings will be on display in hall 33. The donated works represent modernist political painting, which is quite rare in Finnish art.
Now, a couple of months after the donation, these large-scale works are being made available for public viewing. The works bring out a new side of Segerstråle as an artist. They shed light on what Segerstråle was trying to achieve: a deep humanity and a peaceful positivity.
The political and social topics that Segerstråle comments on in his works are relevant even today.
The central theme of Segerstråle’s impressive political paintings was the juxtaposition of good and evil – and of light and shadow. This thinking shows in the composition of the paintings, with the works being divided into dark and light sections. An important example is the painting entitled World in Flames (1939), which Segerstråle signed on 1 September 1939, the day that Germany attacked Poland and that thereby marked the start of the Second World War. World in Flames is a rare painting with a dramatic execution and a powerful vision, the likes of which no one else had produced in Finnish art before the war.
In addition to pacifism, Segerstråle’s works dealt with many of the moral issues of the post-war period, such as the problems of developing countries, racial conflicts (for example, Barbed Wire or Atonement, 1971), and environmental issues (The Destruction of the Environment, 1973).
Segerstråle known especially for his Finlandia frescoes for the Bank of Finland
Lennart Segerstråle is known for his many paintings with bird and animal motifs, and especially for his main work, the Finlandia frescoes (1938–1943) in the main building of the Bank of Finland. After the war, he also created atmospheric landscape paintings. A significant part of Segerstråle’s work since the mid-1930s is made up of monumental paintings, including frescoes, stained-glass windows, and large-scale oil works on canvas.
The Finnish National Gallery’s collection includes a total of 105 works by Segerstråle; the donation by the heirs is an important addition to this body of works.