In the 1890s, visual artists took interest in the common people in a new way. Previously artists had portrayed ordinary folk by studying their characteristics, as if with the eye of an explorer. Now folkways were approached in a more respectful manner. There was a belief that those who had lived for centuries as part of the natural economy possessed the primordial wisdom and eternal knowledge, which was ultimately the hidden basis of contemporary scientific invention. As the French symbolists travelled to Brittany in search of an original way of life, so the Norwegians went to the Telemark region and the Finns to Karelia.
In 1894, Pekka Halonen was in Paris studying under Paul Gauguin. Halonen’s 1900 painting Pioneers in Karelia depicts calm, long-term concentration on work, which was seen as a traditionally Finnish trait. These artists’ favourite themes also included the enchantment conjured by folk music as well as its ability to forge a direct connection with the depths of consciousness.