The Ateneum Collection on Tour

Sam Vanni: Composition, 1957. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

The Breakthrough of Modernism

The 1940s–1960s

The 1940s in Europe were severely distinguished by war. Finland fought three wars during this period: the Winter War (1939–1940), the Continuation War (1941–1944) and the Lapland War (1944–1945).

Artists spotlighted the threats and anxieties generated by the conflicts, and material shortages continued for a long time even after the war. Belief in a better future was reflected in the reconstruction of towns and roads. Finnish architecture and design rose to international fame.

A great transformation took place in art when modernism made its breakthrough. Concrete art reduced the message into forms and colours. Others explored the offshoots of surrealism or painted the world as it appeared to their senses.

In Finland in the 1950s–70s people movedrom rural areas to industrialising cities. The movement put also thoughts in motion. Students began to use their voices to redress social ills. This new awareness was reflected in music, theatre, literature, film and the fine arts. International art gained new importance.  The Ateneum Art Museum organised the first ARS exhibition in 1961, which introduced Finland to Italian, French and Spanish informalism. Its influence was later reflected also in the work of many Finnish artists.

Anitra Lucander

Anitra Lucander (1918–2000) was one of the early pioneers of abstract art in Finland: she adopted the non-representational idiom as early as the 1950s. Her artistic development was influenced by studies in the international and inspiring atmosphere at the Free Art School in Helsinki and also by her travels in France, India and elsewhere.

Lucander’s paintings in the Composition series represent lyrical abstraction, a style that grew out of cubism and developed in a freer direction. Although this picture may have been inspired originally by an urban view, it is first and foremost a composition of colours and shapes.

Jaakko Sievänen

The 1961 ARS exhibition marked the final breakthrough of abstract art, and informalism in particular, in Finnish art. The former predominance of clear, geometric motifs was replaced by a freer use of form. During his travels abroad, Jaakko Sievänen (b. 1932) had seen works of this kind even earlier. In 1964 he became one of the founders of the informalist March Group.

Press releases

Magnus Enckell exhibition at the Ateneum – 150 years since the versatile artist’s birth

  A major exhibition of works by the painter Magnus Enckell (1870–1925) will be shown on the third floor of the Ateneum Art Museum, from 23 October 2020 to 14 February 2021. The exhibition offers a comprehensive overview of the work of one of…

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