Gallen-Kallela, Myths and Nature
In 2022, the Musée Jacquemart-André will devote an exhibition to the work of the Finnish painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865–1931). Via round seventy works held in public and private collections, including, in particular, exceptional pictures from the Gallen-Kallela Museum in Espoo, the exhibition will explore a predominant aspect of his work throughout his career—the theme of nature and the Finnish countryside.
Clouds are reflected, either with a matt or glossy appearance, depending on whether the ice has melted or leaves a thin trace on the surface of the water. Light snow forms new shapes. A tree traverses the countryside’s horizontality and underlines the intense solitude that reigns in this Nordic land. Gallen-Kallela succeeded in representing Finland with incomparable lyricism. Turning away from urban modernity, his oeuvre was inspired by wild nature, and followed the seasons, with a focus on the dense forests and numerous Finnish lakes.
Although Gallen-Kalella’s works had already featured in thematic exhibitions that focused on Finish or Nordic art, it was the major retrospective devoted to his work held in Musée d’Orsay in 2012 that enabled Parisians to discover his entire career.
The exhibition in the Musée Jacquemart-André aims to explore in great detail the issue of the artist’s relation with nature, which changed over the course of his career. Initially ethnographic, his approach became more esoteric as of 1895 and attained unparalleled amplitude at the turn of the twentieth century. This shift was reflected in the changing style of his work from naturalism to symbolism.
The construction of Kalela’s house cum studio in 1894, removed from cities and modern life, played a central role in the artistic and conceptual definition of the artist’s role in nature. Within a microcosm that was both outward and inward looking, Gallen-Kallela attempted to materialise an artistic ideal that was also strongly expressed in his work.
The painter was trained in Helsinki, then in Paris in the Académie Julian and the Atelier Cormon, whose influence is evident in the genre scenes that focus on nature peopled by Finnish peasants. The house cum studio he had built in the heart of the Finnish countryside included a great variety of media, graphic arts, and decorative arts. A significant portion of the exhibition is then devoted to the mythological figures of the Kalevala. Lastly, the exhibition itinerary ends with wild landscapes that convey a sacred emotion, in which nature is imbued with a spiritual presence. The vocabulary of reflections, rustling, and silence explored by Gallen-Kallela at the beginning of the twentieth century left an indelible mark on the identity of the Finnish countryside.
Laura Gutman is an art historian and exhibition curator. A specialist in the artistic interchange between France and the Nordic countries, she has also studied issues relating to cultural geography. She is a founding member of the association ‘The Birch and the Star—Finnish Perspectives on the Long 19th century’. She has curated several exhibitions, and compiled the associated catalogues: ‘Music and Silence. Finnish Symbolism’, Ateneum, Helsinki (2007); ‘Mon cher ami. Count Henri de Vallombreuse, a Parisian Friend’, Gallen-Kallela Museum, Espoo (2008); ‘Art Deco and the Arts. France–Finland, 1905–1935’, Amos Anderson Art Museum, Helsinki (2013); ‘Neo-Rococo and the North’, Gösta Serlachius Museum, Mänttä, and Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Helsinki (2015); ‘Paris 1894. Finnish Artists in the Circle of Gauguin and Strindberg’, the Tikanoja Art Museum, Vaasa (2017); ‘Air de Paris’, Helsinki Art Museum (2018); ‘Moved to Tears–Staging Emotions’, Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Helsinki (2018); ‘Légendes des pays du Nord, Palais Lumière’ (‘Legends of the Nordic countries’), Evian (2018); and ‘1882. Un été nordique au château de Maisons’ (‘A Nordic summer at the Château des Maisons’), CMN Maisons-Laffitte (2022), and ‘Akseli Gallen-Kallela as a Mentor’, Gallen-Kallela Museum, Espoo (2022).
Pierre Curie is Chief Heritage Curator. A specialist in seventeenth-century Italian and Spanish painting, he has also studied nineteenth-century French painting in the Musée du Petit Palais, where he began his career as a curator. Subsequently responsible for painting in the Inventaire Général, he co-authored and compiled the work Vocabulaire typologique et technique de la peinture et du dessin (published in 2009). Appointed head of the painting section in the restoration department of the Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France in 2007, he has coordinated several major painting restoration projects in French national museums (Leonardo de Vinci, Titian, Rembrandt, Poussin, etc.). Pierre Curie has been curator at the Musée Jacquemart-André since January 2016.