This autumn, with over a hundred masterpieces of Finnish Symbolist and Expressionist art from the period around 1900, the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag presents an area of European art as yet undiscovered by the Dutch public. The delicate landscapes, illustrations of myths and sagas, penetrating portraits, and scenes from everyday life are not only aesthetically pleasing, but bear witness to the interest of Finnish artists in the contemporary avant-garde art of Western Europe.
Around 1900, there was a great blossoming of art, literature and music in Finland. The arts were an important factor in the lead-up to national independence, as Russian repression led to resistance which was expressed in every area of cultural life. The Finns used the arts to create a national identity distinct from that of Russia or Sweden and so to pave the way to a free and independent Finland. The result was a distinctive national school of painting, in which artists glorified nature in pictures of the unspoilt Finnish landscape, painted scenes from everyday life, and drew inspiration from Finnish mythology, especially in the shape of the Kalevala, the national epic published in 1835. Their products are extremely varied, ranging from imposing narrative paintings depicting scenes from the ancient Finnish sagas to landscape pictures painted with a subtle - or sometimes vividly exuberant - palette.
Good examples of the extravagant style of narrative painting were produced by one of the most renowned of all Finnish artists: Akseli Gallén-Kallela. His illustrations of episodes from the Finnish myths and sagas are painted in a powerful, energetic style, the mood of which stands in strong contrast to that evoked by the work of another of the major figures: Helene Schjerfbeck, who devoted herself to quiet but penetrating self-portraits and sensitive still lifes. These two artists, who also enjoy a degree of fame outside Finland, were surrounded by a group of other Finnish artists of great quality, such as Magnus Enckell, Alvar Cawén, Hugo Simberg and Väinö Blomstedt. Their paintings include pictures of the Finnish landscape with its many lakes, seen in both summer and winter, and works of a Symbolist nature. All in all, the exhibition offers an unusual insight into a little-known area of European art at the dawn op the 20th century.
Visitors to the exhibition will have the opportunity to view an accompanying film and to buy a catalogue of the same name, published by Waanders Publishers in Dutch and English versions. The exhibition has been organised in close cooperation with the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki and the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere in Vienna, where it is on show from 15 June to 2 October 2005.