Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865-1931). The Spirit of Finland

This coming winter, the Groninger Museum will present a retrospective exhibition of Finland’s most renowned and important artist: Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865-1931). The Spirit of Finland. The exhibition displays the versatile oeuvre of this artist, who lived around the turn of the century and who was responsible for major changes in Finnish art. With his paintings, Akseli Gallen-Kallela laid the foundation for the visual, collective memory of the Finns, thus making a significant contribution to forming the Finnish national identity.

The most important themes from his work have been included in this exhibition, beginning with his education in Paris and Helsinki, the depiction of the Finnish people and its nature particularly Karelia, his interest in symbolism, and his experiments with other media such as graphic art. The heart of the exhibition is formed by the paintings that were inspired by the national epic poem The Kalevala, by means of which Gallen-Kallela reached a high point within Finnish art and which brought him international renown. These paintings can be regarded as the expression of a growing national awareness that did not limit itself to painting but also manifested itself in, for example, the music of Jean Sibelius and the architecture of Eliel Saarinen.

Gallen-Kallela’s fascination for Finland as an independent, untouched and free country is articulated in all aspects of his oeuvre. His many unpopulated and tranquil landscapes, the unique studio houses he built, and especially his life-long endeavours to illustrate The Kalevala all bear evidence to his outlook. It is this comprehensive and versatile, almost mythical magnum opus that is responsible for the image that the word ‘Finland’ evokes in visitors to the country down to the present day.

This will be the first time since the death of Akseli Gallen-Kallela in 1931 that such an extensive overview of his work is shown outside the Nordic Countries. Accordingly, the Groninger Museum is proud to announce that the President of the Republic of Finland, Her Excellency Mrs Tarja Halonen, has agreed to act as the patroness of the exhibition, thus offering the project her moral support.

The compilation of the exhibition will be arranged by the guest curators Dr David Jackson, Senior Lecturer in History of Art at Leeds University, Dr Janne Gallen-Kallela-Sirén, Director of Tampere Art Museum, and Patty Wageman, Deputy Director of the Groninger Museum.

The Groninger Museum is extremely grateful to the many museums and private collectors in and outside Finland for their generous co-operation in the realisation of this unique exhibition.

The exhibition was partially enabled by an investment by the Stichting Fonds Kunst en Economie (Foundation for Art and Economics), which is an initiative of VNO/NCW Noord. The Foundation is funded by the co-operation Noord-Nederland, EZ/Kompas.

Note for the editor
For additional information: Josee Selbach, jselbach@groningermuseum.nl, +31 (0)50-3666555, Roel van Venrooij, rvanvenrooij@groningermuseum.nl, www.groningermuseum.nl.

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