Akseli Gallen-Kallela 150 years

b. 1865 Pori, d. 1931 Stockholm

Axel Waldemar Gallén studied at the Drawing School of the Finnish Art Society in 1878-84. He also studied under Albert Edelfelt. In Tyrvää, Gallén painted Boy with a Crow (1884). That same year, he travelled to Paris, where he began studying at the Académie Julian and encountered the works of Jules Bastien-Lepage.

Gallén exhibited his work for the first time in 1886. He studied in Paris at the Académie Julian and Atelier Cormon until 1889. Besides Parisian scenes, he created his first works based on the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala. In central Finland, Gallén did many paintings at Ekola croft in Keuruu, including In the Sauna (1889). His voyages to White Sea Karelia in 1889 and 1890 provided the spark for the Karelianism movement. In the early 1890s, Gallén became interested in the decorativeness of synthetism and in Japanese art. In January 1893 he painted a series of landscapes around Imatra Falls, of which the main work was Imatra in Winter. In early 1895 Gallén lived in Berlin, associating with the so-called Zum schwarzen Ferkel Group of symbolists. He also studied graphic techniques and held a joint exhibition with Edvard Munch. Back in Finland that same year, he finished building Kalela, his wilderness studio in Ruovesi.

He continued his Kalevala series with the tempera painting Lemminkäinen’s Mother in 1897. In the spring of 1898 Gallén went to Italy to learn fresco painting technique. In 1900 he painted the ceiling cupola frescoes for the Finnish Pavilion at the Paris World Exposition, and designed textiles and furniture for its Iris room. Success at the world’s fair brought him important commissions. In the early twentieth century Gallen-Kallela made a series of foreign trips, including one via Paris to Mombasa and Nairobi, Kenya (1909-11) where he painted many African landscapes such as Mount Kenya (1909).

Return to Finland, he had a new studio built in Espoo, which he named Tarvaspää (1913). Gallen-Kallela created new Kalevala-themed pictures such as Kullervo Herding His Wild Flocks (1917). His next long-distance expedition was to the United States in 1923, ending up in Taos, New Mexico, where he joined an international artists’ colony. There he painted works such as Indian on Horseback in the Snow (1925). Gallen-Kallela returned to Finland the following year and continued his extensive set of illustrations for his “Great Kalevala,” which remained incomplete at the time of his death in 1931.


Heikki Marila, one of Finland’s most expressionist painters, first used Gallen-Kallela’s themes in the early 1990s. At that point, he painted landscapes and versions of the painting Démasquée from the Ateneum collection. His newest series was inspired by Gallen-Kallela’s Temptress (1890), which is part of the Serlachius Museums’ collection.

“My interest in Gallen-Kallela is quite paradoxical. Some of his works are delightful and others are irritating. For me, what is most interesting in his works is their relation to their own time, or indeed their relation to my own time, in their technical execution, for instance. Temptress was a natural choice. This work baffled me even back when I was a student. Now I had an ideal opportunity to return to this subject.” Heikki Marila

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