The early 20th century was characterised by the need for a new social order. The general strike of 1905 sparked the process towards parliamentarism. Ideological activism led to the founding of political parties.
In art there was a search for entirely new forms of expression. The European art scene was filled by expressionists, impressionists, fauvists and cubists all at the same time. Artists began forming groups with other likeminded artists.
Groups also emerged in Finland, such as the post-impressionist Septem, whose hallmark was bright colourism, and the Marraskuu (‘November’) group, which favoured darker tones. There was a new sense of freedom in the use of form and colour, as well as in texture.
Paul Gauguin: Landscape with a Pig and a Horse (Hiva Oa), 1903
Paul Gauguin is one of the leading figures in French postimpressionism. As the inventor of the synthetist style, which emphasises the surface of the painting, Gauguin was a pioneer who had a marked impact on many symbolists. Frustrated with the Western lifestyle, Gauguin moved to Tahiti in 1891, returning to Europe only a few times thereafter. In 1901 Gauguin moved from Tahiti to the island of Hiva Oa in the Marquesas, and lived there until his death. Like other works that Gauguin painted in Tahiti, this too emphasises the totality of nature and the unity between man and his surroundings. The hut at left blends seamlessly into the decoratively painted landscape.
Helene Schjerfbeck: Self-Portrait, 1912
Altogether, Schjerfbeck painted or drew about forty self-portraits. This work was on show in the autumn exhibition at Ateneum in 1914, at which point the artist had already lived in Hyvinkää for a long time, outside of the art circles of the capital. It immediately drew attention. Reviews of the exhibition remarked that although Self-Portrait might seem downright frightening, the flat areas of colour and the strange palette with violet blotches and tinted shadows revealed ‘a born colourist, the likes of which we have so few that they may be counted on the fingers of one hand’. Schjerfbeck had ‘at a stroke become one of our most illustrious artists’.
Tyko Sallinen: Mirri in Black, 1911
The woman in this painting is Sallinen’s wife Helmi Vartiainen. Their relationship was tempestuous, and Sallinen’s contradictory attitude to Helmi – or Mirri, as he called her – comes across in several of his portraits of her. They shocked the public of the day, as the paintings were regarded as awkward, uncouth and even bestial. Sallinen never aspired to photographic likeness, instead emphasising some parts of Helmi’s anatomy, such as the upturned nose and sensuous mouth, as in this picture. Sallinen was a prominent Finnish expressionist and experimental artist, perhaps even a rebel. Inspired by the fauvists and others, he developed his own vivid style of expression, and in the early 1910s he also developed a technique involving a thick, porous ground made of plaster, and which produced a seemingly cracked surface.
Tyko Sallinen: Grandmother, 1916-1917
The Virgin and child with Saint Anne is a traditional Christian subject in art. The atmosphere is solemn and melancholy, foreshadowing the death of Christ on the cross. In Sallinen’s devout and secular Finnish version of the motif, the model for the grandmother was the artist’s own mother. The painting was completed around the time that the November Group of artists was being set up. The group began organising exhibitions in 1916; some of them took place in the Ateneum building. The palette of Sallinen and that of many other artists became filled with shades of grey, blue and brown, with international cubism supplying one of the underlying sources of inspiration. The subjects, however, were often prosaic and Finnish: landscapes and people.
Magnus Enckell: Awakening Faun, 1914
Awakening Faun is a work from Enckell’s late colour period. The mythic creature related to the god Pan is seen languidly waking up under the warm rays of the sun. The water motif in the background links the picture to the myth of Narcissus. One of the sources of inspiration for this painting was The Afternoon of a Faun by Ballets Russes, which Enckell had seen in Paris. A human figure in an exotic natural landscape was a frequent motif in art at the time, symbolising the longing for unity between humanity and nature. Today this and many of Enckell’s other works can be read openly as homoerotic, although in earlier times this interpretation was veiled in obscure circumlocutions. Enckell was a key member of the neo-impressionist Septem Group, which favoured a palette of pure colours.
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.