Touring the exhibition
The exhibition Albert Edelfelt at the Ateneum Art Museum from 5 May to 17 September 2023.
These wall texts are mounted on the walls of the exhibition galleries. This tour starts from gallery 3.1 on the third floor. The tour continues clockwise through the exhibition. If you complete the entire round, you will find the last artworks of the tour in the gallery 3.12.
1854 Albert Gustaf Aristides Edelfelt is born on 21 July at Kiala Manor near Porvoo. His parents are Carl Albert Edelfelt (1818−1869), a Swedish-born architect, and Alexandra (née Brandt, 1833−1901), the daughter of a Porvoo ship owner.
1866 The family moves to Helsinki.
1869 In the autumn, Edelfelt begins studying at the Finnish Art Society’s Drawing School in Helsinki.
1871 Graduates from the Swedish Normal Lyceum in Helsinki. Participates as a sketch artist in a documentary trip to Åland and southwest Finland. Enrols at the University of Helsinki. Studies art at the university drawing room.
1872 Participates in the Finnish Art Society’s annual exhibition in the autumn and receives the second-place Ducat Prize.
1873 Travels in October to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp in Belgium to study historical painting.
1874 Moves to Paris in May and begins studies at the École des Beaux-Arts with historical painter Jean-Léon Gérôme.
1875 Meets Jules Bastien-Lépage, a pioneer of naturalism. Close artist friends include Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret and Gustave Courtois.
1876 Travels to Italy in February. Falls ill with typhus. Edelfelt is cared for by the Danish painter Pietro Krohn, who becomes a lifelong friend.
1877 Artistic breakthrough at the Paris Salon with the painting Queen Bianca.
1878 Paris World’s Fair spurs interest in Japanese art. Duke Karl Insulting the Corpse of Klaus Fleming is shown at the Paris Salon.
1879 The first large work that was mostly painted outdoors, Conveying the Child’s Coffin, for which Edelfelt received a third-class medal at the Paris Salon the following year.
1880 Edelfelt buys a summer villa for his family at Haikko, which becomes the focal point of his summers in Finland. Rents a studio in Paris at 147 Avenue de Villiers, which he keeps until the end of his life.
1881-82 Travels to Spain in the spring of 1881, spending five weeks in Madrid, Granada, Seville and Toledo. Divine Service in Uusimaa Archipelago is awarded a second-class medal at the Paris Salon, and is purchased by the French government. Selected as a member of the Russian Academy of Arts.
1884-85 Travels from St. Petersburg via Berlin to Paris and London. First foreign solo exhibitions in Gothenburg and Copenhagen.
1886 Edelfelt’s portrait of the scientist Louis Pasteur is a great success at the Paris Salon and is purchased by the French government. Spring on the French Riviera. Private exhibition in Helsinki.
1888 On 19 January, marries Baroness Ellan de la Chapelle, a friend since childhood. Their only child, Albert Johan Erik, was born on 23 November in Helsinki.
1889 At the beginning of the year, travels to Paris to prepare for Finland’s participation in the Exposition. Portrait of Louis Pasteur receives a Medal of Honour and Edelfelt becomes an officer of the French Legion of Honour.
1890 Participates as a full member in the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts exhibition organised by Ernest Meissonier, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes and Auguste Rodin.
1891−92 The family travels to the Riviera in spring 1891, and in summer moves from Paris to Helsinki. Solo exhibition in Stockholm in February 1892. Studio at Liisankatu 27.
1893 Named to the jury of the Salon du Champ de Mars in Paris. In Gausdal in the Norwegian fells in July.
1894−95 First illustrations for J. L. Runeberg’s Tales of Ensign Stål. Elected as chair of the Artists’ Association of Finland in 1895.
1896−98 Takes part in Tsar Nicholas II’s coronation celebrations in Moscow. Participates in and co-organises the 1898 Exhibition of Russian and Finnish artists in St. Petersburg. Travels with his family and Anders Zorn from Berlin to Paris.
1900 Serves as commissioner of the Finnish section of the Paris World’s Fair and as a member of the international jury. In St. Petersburg, successfully negotiates for Finland to have its own stand, separate from Russia, at the exhibition.
1901 In August, Edelfelt’s mother Alexandra dies at Haikko.
1902 Major solo exhibition at the Ateneum in February. During the summer, travels to the Netherlands and Belgium in preparation for the wall paintings for the University of Helsinki’s Great Hall.
1903 Travels to Italy with his wife Ellan. Elected as chair of the Finnish Art Society.
1904 In May, visits London, Oxford and Richmond.
1905 Completes a three-part wall painting on canvas for the University of Helsinki’s Great Hall, entitled Inauguration of the Academy in Turku 1640. He returns to Finland in early July and becomes bedridden due to a pulmonary embolism. Dies at Haikko on 18 August.
A Finnish cosmopolitan
Albert Edelfelt was an artist who faced high expectations – and lived up to them. He was a cosmopolitan who felt at home abroad and in European art circles. Paris was to be his second home. Above all, Edelfelt saw himself as a servant of his country. He promoted the cause of Finland during the 1900 Paris Exposition, for example.
Edelfelt returned to Finland each summer. He regularly spent time in Haikko, near Porvoo, whose surroundings he often depicted in his works. The artist’s family members – his mother Alexandra, his father Carl Albert, his sisters Ellen, Annie and Berta as well as his wife Ellan and his son Erik – appear in many works.
Out in the garden
During his summers in Finland, Edelfelt painted garden-themed works in the surroundings of Villa Edelfelt and Haikko Manor. His garden offered a change of pace between salon paintings and commissioned works, which he painted in his summer studio. He also placed human figures in the garden, and often included the villa in his paintings. The atmosphere of these works is calm and timeless, far from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The sea, which is omnipresent in Haikko, can be seen in the background of many works, as well as large sailing ships.
Edelfelt also drew and painted summer flowers, perennials and trees in his garden. His fascination with the garden is evident from his letters to his mother, which sometimes included planting instructions.
Edelfelt painted a number of so-called milieu portraits, placing his models in their typical, characteristic environments. The subjects are shown at leisure, reading, writing letters or playing the piano. Edelfelt also established personal relationships with the Russian imperial family and painted portraits of members of the family in the 1880s.
Edelfelt documented domestic scenes in watercolours, with family members often serving as models. These scenes are set at his mother’s and sisters’ homes in Haikko and Helsinki as well as his own home in Helsinki.
Edelfelt lived and worked in various places in Paris. Studios were not only settings for work, but also for socialising with friends and other invited guests. Clients were invited to studios to view works. On the opening day of the Salon, people gathered to celebrate at Café Ledoyen, a favourite haunt of artists.
Artists often used the same models for their works, as Edelfelt and Gunnar Berndtson did, for example. Japanese-themed objects were fashionable as props for paintings. Edelfelt maintained a studio on Avenue de Villiers until his death. His closest artist colleague, Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret, among others, lived in the same building.
Summer studio in Haikko
In 1879, Albert Edelfelt’s mother, Alexandra Edelfelt, rented the old caretaker’s villa at Haikko Manor as the family’s summer residence. The following year, the family took out a loan to purchase the villa, and Villa Edelfelt became the artist’s summer home as well. Edelfelt built a summer studio nearby, where he painted subjects close to his heart: coastal-dwelling people and maritime landscapes. Many of these works won awards at the Paris Salon.
By the 1870s and 1880s, plein air painting was well established in French art. Edelfelt painted in parks such as the Luxembourg Gardens and the Bois de Boulogne. He depicted modern Parisian life in Luxembourg Gardens, Paris, aiming for a genuine sense of outdoor air and light. Therefore he mostly painted outdoors, as well as in his friend Dagnan-Bouveret’s glass greenhouse.
Edelfelt was fascinated by beautiful women and fashion, and paid attention to the details of clothing. Many of his works portray elegant Parisiennes. He also sent the latest fashionable outfits and dress fabrics to his sisters in Finland, or brought them as gifts.
Travelling in Europe
Edelfelt travelled between Helsinki and Paris via two different routes: the western route through Stockholm, Copenhagen and Germany or the eastern one via St Petersburg, the Baltic countries, Warsaw and Berlin. Edelfelt had many personal connections in Sweden, and in Denmark often visited his friend Pietro Krohn.
Edelfelt first visited Italy during a European tour in 1876. During a trip in 1891, he stayed in southern France, where he painted landscapes of Provence and the Mediterranean. In 1881, Edelfelt spent five weeks in Spain. There he studied Velázquez’s paintings at the Prado Museum in Madrid and painted local subjects in Andalusia. Edelfelt visited London several times in the 1880s, 1890s and early 1900s.
History and politics
Historical painting was the most prestigious genre of painting through nearly all of the 19th century. Edelfelt first went to Antwerp to study historical painting and remained a history buff throughout his life. Edelfelt’s historical-themed paintings were based on careful research of buildings, objects and costumes. He frequently visited museums and, like a historian, used a variety of sources to create the most realistic picture of the past.
Political undertones can also be seen in Edelfelt’s paintings. He closely followed current social debates and commented on the politics of his day in paintings and illustrations.
This cosmopolitan artist’s oeuvre includes many urban landscapes from Helsinki, Paris, Porvoo and Copenhagen. While the Porvoo region was connected to his childhood and family, Paris was the most important city in terms of his career. In the early 1890s, Edelfelt and his family moved back from Paris to Helsinki, where they first lived in Kaivopuisto and then in Katajanokka. The artist also had a studio on Liisankatu in the city’s Kruununhaka district. Many views of the city from his home and studio were painted in winter. Winter subjects were considered exotic in Paris, where he spent much time until the end of his life.
Portraits were an important source of income for professional artists. Edelfelt’s financial situation was shaky at times, so the popularity he achieved as a portraitist was useful. Orders poured in from various countries. These paintings feature writers, scientists, famous actors, female singers and socialites, friends and politicians – as well as royalty from Sweden, Denmark and Germany and members of the Russian imperial family.
Edelfelt depicted his subjects in a variety of ways: full-length portraits, three-quarter portraits and busts. He specialised in milieu portraits, in which a person is presented in a three-dimensional space, in an environment characteristic of them. In these works, the subject is often depicted almost life-sized.
The common people
In the 19th century, artists became interested in portraying the common people and peasantry. The phenomenon was tied to the social upheavals of the 1870s and 1880s and the breakthrough of modernism in art and literature. They drew attention to social conditions, equality, the role of religion and the distribution of property in urban and rural settings. Edelfelt was also fascinated by these subjects, particularly depicting the inhabitants of the seaside region of Haikko and Porvoo. He often placed these characters at religious events related to the cycle of life, such as church services, baptisms and funerals. The theme of Edelfelt’s Christ and Mary Magdalene relates to a poem from the Kanteletar, a collection of Finnish folk poetry.