Ateneumin julkisivu 5.5.2023, yksityiskohta Kuva | Photo: Kansallisgalleria | Finnish National Gallery / Aleks Talve

Colour and light – The Legacy of Impressionism

Ateneum Art Museum 20.10.2023–25.2.2024.

Teacher’s guide to the exhibition.

Welcome to the exhibition!

Come discover the themes, artists and works featured in the Colour & Light – The Legacy of Impressionism exhibition. The show explores the birth, evolution and influence of Impressionism and Colourism from the perspective of both Finnish and international artists. In a quest to find new ways to depict the world around them, the Impressionists and Neo-Impressionists studied and observed the contrast of colour, light and shadow and experimented with techniques such as outdoor painting.

This resource packet presents the exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum through various themes. As an educator or teacher working with children and young people, you are free to adjust and use the materials to fit the age level of your students. The materials also include short exercises to be completed as a group, tips for viewing art and two activities to do before or after your museum visit.

Museum rules and recommendations

As the teacher, you can lead your group in the Colour & Light exhibition, but you are not allowed to serve as a proper exhibition guide in the galleries. Bear in mind that you cannot remain with your group in front of any single work for a long time. There are no guided tours of the Colour & Light exhibition available for booking. However, groups from secondary schools or colleges can attend introductory presentations of the show in the Ateneum Hall at a reduced price. You can book an intro for your group here.

More tips to make your visit a success can be found here: Instructions for a museum visit.

Material in pdf format

Download the material in pdf format.

Gallery 3.1

Alfred William Finch: Amberley River Valley (1911). Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

Learn more about the artwork

The birth of Impressionism can be traced back to the 1870s. Changes in French art education, developments in science and research in colour perception all contributed to the emergence of the new style. Artists were fascinated by this new way of looking at the world, which was characterised by direct contact with nature and natural events. Artists now began to paint outdoors, which was made easier by the invention of new types of paint tubes and painting accessories. Landscapes became a popular subject among artists and art collectors alike in the 19th century.

The secondary movement known as Neo-Impressionism emerged in the mid-1880s, when painters developed new colour theories and began to use them as a foundation for their work. Because their process was systematic and often slow, the Neo-Impressionists abandoned outdoor painting and moved back to the studio.

What kind of a landscape would you like to paint? Have you ever made art outdoors? What kinds of artworks would it be possible to make out in the open?

Galleries 3.2 and 3.3. Garden

Pekka Halonen: From the Garden (1913). Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Kirsi Halkola

Learn more about the artworks

One prominent feature of paintings of outdoor views is the artist’s desire to portray a feeling or sensation arising in nature. Starting from the 1870s, artists adopted a paler and brighter palette. Pictures of gardens and nature studies allowed them to investigate the lighting effects of different times of day and seasons on the appearance of the environment.

The home with its garden was one of the favourite subjects of painter Pekka Halonen, who lived in an artist community at Tuusulanjärvi lake near Helsinki. He painted details of nature in all seasons. Halonen had studied under the French artist Paul Gauguin and was well aware of new trends in art. For him, the new approach to art meant an abundance of colour and brushwork. The broad range of Colourism is also evident in his paintings of winter scenes, in which the cold light creates strong contrast on the snow.

Pekka Halonen: Tomatoes (1913). Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen
Wilho Sjöström: Summer Evening (1912). Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen.

What kinds of viewpoints have artists used for landscapes and other scenes? How does a nature scene change when viewed from ground level or from above? What familiar things can you find in the artworks in the garden-themed galleries?

Gallery 3.4 Winter

Claude Monet: Floating Ice on the Seine (1880), Musée d´Orsay, Paris. Photo: Musée d´Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Sylvie Chan-Liat

Learn more about the artwork

Impressionism introduced new perspectives and compositions that were bold and experimental for their time. In Monet’s Floating Ice on the Seine, the horizon line sits almost perfectly in the middle of the canvas. This creates a kind of mirror effect, turning the upper and lower halves into a reflection. Although the overall impression is peaceful, the work includes a great deal of contrast created by complementary colours, such as blue-orange and violet-yellow.

What winter-related details can you find in the works in this gallery? What colours have the artists used on snowy and icy surfaces?

Galleries 3.6 and 3.8 Rural landscape

Auguste Renoir: Path Leading Through Tall Grass (1875), Musée d´Orsay, Paris. Photo: Musée d´Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

Learn more about the artworks

Ellen Thesleff painted many works in Italy. The paintings were different: they had glowing colours and a distinct character created by bold brushwork and composition. Thesleff’s new works generated a lot of discussion and criticism in their day. Her new and quite different works, with their glowing colours and distinct character created by bold brushwork and composition, generated a lot of discussion and criticism in their day.

Tyko Sallinen’s The Washerwomen also caused a stir. The way the characters are depicted was considered crude. The picture is painted on a grounding layer that shines through the colours, making them strong and bright. The person on the left is the artist’s wife, Helmi.

Ellen Thesleffin maalaus Toscanalainen maisema, teoksessa sinisen ja violetin sävyjä.
Ellen Thesleff: Landscape from Tuscany (1908). Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen.
Tyko Sallinen: Pyykkärit, 1911. Kansallisgalleria / Ateneumin taidemuseo, kok. Hoving. Kuva: Kansallisgalleria / Hannu Aaltonen
Tyko Sallinen: The Washerwomen, 1911. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, coll. Hoving. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Imagine what different rural landscapes might feel, smell or sound like. What would the temperature be in these places?

Gallery 3.9: Sea

Pointillismia edustava teos, jossa etualalla puu, sen taustalla merimaisema ja taimmaisena vuoria. Vedessä purjevene.
Paul Signac: Antibes. Kuva: Kansallisgalleria / Jenni Nurminen

Learn more about the artworks here

At the turn of the 1900s, artists acquired an interest in vitalism, outdoor life and healthy lifestyles. Vitalism can be interpreted as a reaction against the hard values resulting from urbanisation and industrialisation. Vitalists advocated spending time in nature as well as sunbathing and nudity. Direct contact with nature was also thought to boost creativity.

The island of Suursaari was the centre of Colourist painting for many Finnish artists, among them Magnus Enckell and Verner Thomé. In the late 1800s, it was a popular seaside destination for tourism and relaxation. Another key theme of Vitalist art was childhood and adolescence. These seaside scenes are both imbued with sunshine, warmth, light, colour, movement and a sense of stillness.

The small dabs of different-coloured paint interact with each other, creating new shades. Some Neo-Impressionists actually adhered to a principle known as optical blending, producing the perception of green colour with closely painted yellow and blue dots. Colourist theories were based on the observation of how light breaks down into different colours: a prism, for example, separates the sun’s white light into a spectrum – a rainbow – of colours.

Verner Thomé: Bathing Boys (1910). Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Aleks Talve

What kind of an environment is relaxing? What does it feel like in your body when you are relaxed and at peace?

Gallery 3.12: Urban life

Maguns Enckell: Banks of the Seine (1912). Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

Learn more about the artwork

This exhibition showcases early Impressionist works in parallel with later Neo-Impressionist art. It is often impossible to draw a clear distinction between the styles, because many of the new forms of expression coexisted with older ones.

A major change occurred in Finnish painting around 1910. Magnus Enckell’s work is typical of the colouristically exuberant style of his day, when artists liked to depict the intense atmosphere of the city, the new urban lifestyle. For the first time, cities and urban environments were seen in a positive light. This colourful, intensely expressive style also set the stage for the new art movements and schools of thought that succeeded Impressionism in the 20th century: Expressionism, Cubism and Futurism.

How is the city different from the countryside and nature? If you painted or drew a cityscape, what would it show?

Gallery for schools

There is a small online gallery for schools in the Finnish National Gallery web page. We have selected some of the collection artworks that are on display with texts and questions.

Go to Gallery for schools

Assignments to complete at school

Colourful portrait

Technique: painting or drawing

Who would you like to depict in a portrait: yourself or someone else? Create a portrait using primary and secondary colours as well as other colour mixes. For example, you can create a self-portrait in different shades of just one colour or a picture of a person or animal using complementary colours.

You will need: colour pencils, pastels, drawing instruments, drawing or painting paper, masking tape, watercolours or gouache paints, brushes, water in cups

A view from the window

Technique: painting, drawing or writing

What can you see when you look out a window? Consider what you’d like to see. Is it a real place, an imaginary view, a dream or a fantasy? Create a drawing or painting on the theme “a view from the window”. Alternatively, you can also describe the view in writing. Tell others about the details and mood in your view.

You will need: colour pencils, pastels, drawing instruments, drawing or painting paper, masking tape, watercolours or gouache paints, brushes, water in cups