The annual Salon exhibitions in Paris offered artists an opportunity for a great breakthrough. A case in point is Albert Edelfelt who won a third-class medal. Parisian influences soon began to appear in art. Romanticism was replaced by outdoor painting and realism.
This period in the history of art has left us with a great number of iconic works. In Finland it became known as the Golden Age, representing a distillation of Finnish identity, people and landscape.
Opened in 1888, the Ateneum building has always been a house of artists. People have created, studied and experienced art in it from the beginning. The museum’s collection of art originated with the work of the Finnish Art Society, founded in 1846, which began acquiring artists’ portraits of themselves and of other artists. The aim of the Art Society was to demonstrate that art and culture play an important role in Finnish society.
In the decades following Finnish independence, the selfportrait became an increasingly important instrument for examining oneself and one’s work. The collections at Ateneum include both self-portraits and portraits in different media up to the 1970s.
The Kalevala is a collection of ancient Finnish folk poems. The poems were originally sung, and they were passed down through the generations as an oral tradition. The first version of the Kalevala compiled by Elias Lönnrot was published in 1835, and the final, extended edition in 1849. In the years after its publication it came to be considered the national epic of Finland.
From the start artists found inspiration in the mythic characters and stories in the Kalevala. The greatest interpretations of the epic in visual art were created at the turn of the 20th century. In this period the national-romantic veneration of Karelia (known as Karelianism) led artists to search for visual motifs in Karjala, the region from which most of the Kalevala‘s poems were originally collected. Most notably among these artists was Akseli Gallen-Kallela.