The tune of modern life in the 1920s and 1930s was set by jazz bands and factory whistles. Cities burgeoned, and steam engines, cars and aeroplanes made it easier to quickly move from one place to another. The goal was to ‘open the windows to Europe’. Belief in a better future was put to the test in Finland by the Great Depression (1929–1934).
Art was looking in several directions at once. Increasingly international, artists once more embraced new styles, and being an artist became ever clearer as a profession in its own right.
Modernist classicism in all its varieties was the usual style of representation in the 1920s–30s, although a strong surrealist undertone was ripening in places like Turku as well.
Martti Ranttila: Selling a Watch, 1933
Selling a Watch is a meticulous, calm and tightly composed snapshot, the time and place of which are hard to pin down. Having studied in the drawing school of the Finnish Art Society in the 1920s, Ranttila was a great admirer of the old masters. He worked slowly and methodically, and his output remained quite small. The man in the centre of this picture looks a lot like the artist himself. The watch is a traditional symbol of time and the transitory nature of life. Stylistically this work adheres to modernist classicism, which typically employed a fairly narrow range of tones.
Tove Jansson: Mysterious Landscape, c. 1930
Many of the landscapes and urban views that Jansson painted as a student in the 1930s contain a surreal atmosphere, an impression created by mysterious, almost alien vistas and strong contrasts of colour. Tove Jansson’s works from this period were often large, as if foreshadowing the monumental murals she would paint in the 1940s and 1950s. In Mysterious Landscape a dark landscape is cleft by bright, pale-coloured fields. The work can also be seen to foreshadow the visual world of Moominvalley.
Edwin Lydén: Thunder, 1926
Turku-born Edwin Lydén was a painter, teacher and art critic and an influential figure in the emergence of modernism in Turku. Lydén studied for many years in Munich, and his main influences are from German rather than French art. In the 1910s Lydén became interested in expressionism and its emotional orientation, and in the 1920s he followed the Der Sturm movement. Thunder is a combination of figurative and abstract elements that convey the feeling and experience of the natural phenomenon. The style differs from the more rational theory and approach in French abstract art.
André Lhôte: Reclining Female Model, 1930
French painter and art critic André Lhôte was one of the first artists to experiment with cubism. His later work was influenced by Neue Sachlichkeit and neoclassicism, and his paintings from the 1930s are dominated by rhythmic shapes and curving lines. Lhôte had a considerable impact on the development of Finnish modernism – many Finnish artists studied in the art school Lhôte founded in Montparnasse in 1922. The only painting by Lhôte at Ateneum was purchased from a 1934 show in Kunsthalle Helsinki, where at the request of his Finnish students the artist had sent 17 works.
Le Corbusier: Two Women, 1939
Swiss architect, painter and art theorist Le Corbusier (Charles-Edouard Jeanneret) is one of the key figures in modern architecture. A French citizen since 1930, Le Corbusier painted and drew throughout his life. He himself regarded his generally overlooked artistic work as the foundation of his accomplishments as an architect. Le Corbusier’s architectural style was based on pure geometric forms, but in this painting he has allowed himself to use a freer visual language. The erotic element is present in almost all of his paintings, and this is no exception. This piece was purchased from the exhibition Contemporary Art from Paris at Kunsthalle Helsinki in 1952.
NOTE! Its status as a national gallery requires the Ateneum Art Museum to lend its works to other museums in Finland and abroad, and this is one of the reasons why the selection of works on display in Ateneum varies to some extent.
More information on the works and artists from the Finnish National Gallery Collections web service.