As far back as the early 19th century, Finnish landscapes were captured on lithographs, which were then sold in portfolios. The most important portfolio was Finland framställdt i teckningar (‘Finland depicted in drawings’, 1845–1852). Its pictures also included some built environments. The idea originally came from the writer Zachris Topelius, according to whom nature, people and culture are a single entity. An opposite view was held by the poet J. L. Runeberg, whose romantic idea was that untamed nature and pristine wilderness represent the very opposite of culture and were important for that very reason. An untouched lake landscape seen from high above was, for a long time, an ideal type of Finnish landscape.
Ferdinand von Wright: View from Haminalahti, 1853
This painting depicts a panoramic view from Haminalahti in Savo, the native region of the artist brothers Magnus, Wilhelm and Ferdinand von Wright. An idyllic view over a lake dappled with islands and bays opens up from the top of a hill. View from Haminalahti is a key work in Finnish landscape painting because it was one of the first lake landscapes in inland Finland that was painted from a high vantage point. In the course of the 19th century, such views became a central element in the conception of nature and landscape in Finland; it became part of the national identity. Writer Zachris Topelius was enraptured when he saw the painting in the exhibition of the Finnish Art Society in 1854. He said it was akin to Finland herself and to a new stanza in the national anthem.
Werner Holmberg: Road in Häme (A Hot Summer Day), 1860
Werner Holmberg was considered an artistic prodigy in his time. Although his career remained short, he had a crucial influence on Finnish landscape painting. He was the first Finnish artist of note to study art in Düsseldorf, Germany. Holmberg combined the academic studio tradition with a realistic style of painting that was close to nature. He wandered in the outdoors with a sketchbook, recording his impressions. This enabled him to impart a sense of realism and credibility to the painting when completed in the studio. Road in Häme is based on sketches Holmberg made near Tampere on his last journey to Finland. Consumption cut his career short at the age of just 29.
Finland in Drawings, 1845–1852
As its name suggests, Finland in Drawings (orig. Finland framställdt i teckningar) showcased the country in graphic form. It was originally published in a series of separate booklets between 1845 and 1852. Several Finnish artists were engaged in making the drawings, including Johan Knutson, P. A. Kruskopf and Magnus von Wright. The extensive texts were written by Zachris Topelius. The original drawings were made into lithographs by German lithographers, and the final volume of texts and 120 plates was published in Helsinki. Following the old picturesque and topographic tradition, the book presents attractive, historically important and representative views from around the country: manors, towns and castles, as well as landscape views. The book was exceptionally important in disseminating the idea of Finland, and it was also instrumental in awakening interest in landscape painting.
Per Gustaf von Heideken: Norwegian Fell Landscape, 1845
Nature appreciation took on a new cast in early 19th century romanticism. Art would henceforth convey the beauty and magnificence of nature’s views. The concept of the sublime was developed in philosophy. Landscape paintings embodied the sublime in views of mountains, cloud formations in the sky, or the turbulent waters of rapids. There was an increasing interest in wild northern nature. Splendid views from Norway were a rewarding subject for Nordic artists. Norwegian Fell Landscape was the first work purchased by the Finnish Art Society.
Werner Holmberg: The Kyrö Rapids, 1854
The Kyrö rapids in the municipality of Hämeenkyrö was one of the most famous sights in western Finland in the 19th century. Although Holmberg was familiar with it, he painted this picture – his first on the subject – in Düsseldorf, Germany, without the help of any studies made on site. He based the picture instead on P. A. Kruskopf’s wash drawing and a story written by Zachris Topelius for the illustrated book Finland framställdt i teckningar (Finland in Drawings). Holmberg had travelled to Düsseldorf the year before to study landscape painting, and now he applied into this picture everything he had learned about lighting and colour. The shadows cast by the clouds, the rapids bathing in sunlight and the mill are all depicted with utmost care. The stark alternation of light and shadow creates a powerful sense of a romantic wilderness.
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.