Ideological activism led to the founding of political parties. Following Finland’s independence in 1917, the political situation between right and left was riddled with tension.
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, and being an artist became ever clearer as a profession in its own right.
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. Artists in Finland closely followed events on the international art scene. The latest European art was presented in art galleries founded in Helsinki. However, the First World War dampened things and limited contacts.
In the 1920s and 1930s cities burgeoned, and steam engines, cars and aeroplanes made it easier to quickly move from one place to another. Belief in a better future was put to the test in Finland by the Great Depression (1929–1934). Modernist classicism in all its varieties was the usual style of representation in the 1920s–1930s, although a strong surrealist undertone was ripening in places like Turku as well.
Cubist Composition (1915) is a rare example of early Finnish cubism. Ilmari Aalto’s (1891–1934) cubist period lasted only from 1914–1916, after which his style changed in a more expressive direction. He drew his cubist influences from a 1914 exhibition in Helsinki featuring expressionist and cubist art by the German Der Blaue Reiter group and also from cubo-futurist art he had seen in St Petersburg.
Otto Mäkilä (1904–1955) was one of the key artists of the so-called Turku school of modernism. He studied at the Turku Drawing School and later in Paris, where he acquainted himself with the art of Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse and others, but it was especially Marc Chagall’s work that led Mäkilä towards surrealism. Mäkilä was a pioneer of Finnish surrealism, who early on abandoned the idea of depicting reality. His art was concerned with interpreting his inner visions and exploring humanity. Mäkilä was extremely sensitive to the mental climate and trends in the world around him. With the war, his down-to-earth surrealism and inner visions turned into increasingly disillusioned pictures of isolation.