Here is a short description of how body image is conveyed in Finnish art. This is what the students studies as part of their art lessons in autumn and winter 2015. This section focuses on the Finnish Golden Age in art, when the Finnish national art was shaped.
The Finnish Golden Age in art
In Finland, the period between years 1880 and 1910 is called The Finnish Golden Age in art. During this time, the Finnish art was given its own, national shape. At the same time Finnish art reached a high international level. Artists studied in Paris where they got to know the art of painting outside. Inspired by this, artists started to depict their home country, its people, nature and history in their paintings. Topics also included the poor people in the society, people in the countryside and Finland’s untouched forest sceneries. Through new topics, Finnish people learned to notice the beauty and uniqueness of their home country. The art of the Golden Age told stories of Finland and its history to the outside world as well. Art was included when they wanted to show that Finland is a nation among other nations. The most significant figure of this period was Akseli Gallen-Kallela and other top artists such as Pekka Halonen, Albert Edelfelt, Helene Schjerfbeck and Eero Järnefelt.
In the Finnish art, the 1880s was the decade of Realism. Back then, artists focused on depicting Finnish nature and countryside. This meant that people and their body image were depicted in a very real way: men doing field work are often depicted very muscular and athletic. On the other hand, the years of famine in the 1880s manifest themselves in the paintings as stomachs swollen by eating bread whose ingredients included pine bark because people couldn’t afford enough regular flour in their bread. The old housewives are depicted as wrinkled and round. During the period of Realism, bodies were depicted as they really were. Nothing was hidden or glorified.
REALISM – EXAMPLE 1:
Akseli Gallen-Kallela – Akka ja kissa / The old woman and the cat (1885)
The model for this piece of art is an old woman from Salo, where Gallen-Kallela started painting.
REALISM - EXAMPLE 2:
Eero Järnefelt – Raatajat rahanalaiset / Poor workers (1893)
Järnefelt painted this work in Lapinlahti. Realism is shown both in the realistic way of depicting the scenery and its contents. Tenant farmers without land of their own are burning the woods to transform them into a slash and burn field.
REALISM - EXAMPLE 3:
Pekka Halonen – Niittomiehet / Scything men (1891)
Halonen painted this piece in the same manner as French open-air paintings. He depicts his peers doing their work. Pekka Halonen himself was a son of a farmer from Lapinlahti, and this picture was painted in Lapinlahti, too. The country scenery from Savo region and the real people create almost a pious atmosphere in the painting despite the laborious work. The model for the man sharpening his scythe was Halonen’s younger brother Antti.
EXAMPLE 4: Albert Edelfelt - Eukko pärekoreineen / An old woman with her basket made of shingles (1882)
Edelfelt painted a lot of beautiful women, but the women didn’t represent any particular ideal of beauty. They were quite individual female types. On the other hand, the depictions of women varied according to the model’s age and social status. The painting Eukko pärekoreineen is one example of this kind of depictions. The model is Edelfelts’ maid Tajta. The faithful servant is reduced into an anonymous woman. She is a specimen of an old, unsexual and worn-down woman. On the other hand, the style of the painting involves some level of idolization of what a typical peasant woman was like.
In the 1890s, the social art was replaced by individual experiences and the emphasis on spiritual life. This art movement was called Symbolism, where the artist’s task was to depict the big questions in life metaphorically through symbols. For example Magnus Enckell and Hugo Simberg were influenced by the Symbolism in Paris. The new influences were shown in their work immediately.
SYMBOLISM – EXAMPLE 1:
Hugo Simberg - Köynnöksenkantajat- freskon yksityiskohta / The carriers of a vine – a detail from a fresco
Simberg’s art was very humane. He believed that people lived in a material world, amidst happiness, sadness, guilt and death. In this fresco, 12 boys are carrying a rose vine, which is the metaphor for life with its roses and thorns. The number of boys refers to the twelve apostles. The artist depicts people’s different ways to deal with life in these boy figures. The body image conforms to the topic and the deeper meanings. The boys are muscular and in a good shape, strong enough to carry the heavy burden.
SYMBOLISM – EXAMPLE 2: Hugo Simberg - Köynnöksenkantajat- freskon yksityiskohta / The carriers of a vine - a detail from a fresco
Some of the boys carry the vine courageously, while others are picking flowers and for some, the burden is too heavy.
The Symbolism of Finnish artists soon transformed into Romantic nationalism in the 1890s. Romantic nationalism means art emphasizing national originality. When the Russian oppression increased, people wanted to defend the rights of the Finns through art as well. Many artists travelled to Eastern Finland and Karelia to find the original Finnish people and culture in the 1890s. This art movement is called Karelianism.
EXAMPLE 1: Akseli Gallen-Kallela – Paanajärven paimenpoika / The shepherd of Paanajärvi (1892) (Romantic nationalism)
EXAMPLE 2: Albert Edelfelt – Kristus ja Mataleena / Christ and Madgalena (1890) (Karelianism)
In this picture, both the poetry from the Finnish national epic Kalevala and the Bible are combined. Madgalena refuses to give water to a shepherd, whom she recognizes to be Christ only after he tells her about all her secret acts. Madgalena’s body image represents a young woman from Karelia. The model for Christ was young Magnus Enckell.
EXAMPLE 3: Akseli Gallen-Kallela – Lemminkäisen äiti / Lemminkäinen’s mother (1897)
This work of art represents Gallen-Kallela’s symbolistic and plain Kalevala phase. It depicts the pain of the mother who is mourning over the body of his dead son Lemminkäinen, who died because of his defiance. It is set on the beach of the river in the underworld. The mother is begging for a drop of honey from a bee to revive his son. The rays of light promise some hope and Lemminkäinen wakes up from the death. The model for the mother was the artist’s own mother, who had been told so many sad news that she was about to burst into tears.
More pure and bright colours as well as sunlight started to appear in Finnish art at the beginning of the 1900s. Then, the art started to free itself from the Russian political pressure and the heaviness of the Romantic nationalism was set aside. Shape, light and colours were emphasized in paintings.
EXAMPLE 1: Magnus Enckell – Poikia rannalla (1910) / Boys on the beach