Northern Stars and Southern Lights

The Golden Age of Finnish Art

Northern Stars and Southern Lights:

The Golden Age of Finnish Art 1870 -1920
8th November 2008 – 1st February 2009

Millennium Wing

This was the first time an exhibition of Finnish art on this scale had been organised in Ireland. Northern Stars and Southern Lights: The Golden Age of Finnish Art 1870-1920 was organised in collaboration with the Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki. It brought together 74 paintings and prints which showed a mix of native influences with international styles, particularly from France.

Curated by Dr. Adriaan Waiboer of the National Gallery of Ireland and Timo Huusko of the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki, the exhibition explored the highpoint of Finnish painting, also known as the 'Golden Age of Finnish Art'. In particular, it looked at naturalism in Finnish art, epic landscapes and scenes of everyday life, as well as vivid images inspired by national legends and myths with an emphasis on Finland's national epic, the Kalevala - a compilation of folk poetry published in 1835 by Elias Lönnrot. The exhibition also made reference to Early Modernism and the 1900 World Fair in Paris, where Finland had its own pavilion.

Finland's vast, unspoilt landscape, played an important role for artists in the context of the country's growing sense of national identity as represented in the exhibition by artists Eero Järnefelt (1863-1937), Under the Yoke (Burning the Brushwood) (1893); Pekka Halonen (1865-1933) The Short Cut (1892) and Vaïno Blomstedt (1871-1947), Sunset (1898), who together managed to capture in pigment the country's distinctive forests, lakes and rivers in a uniquely heroic and symbolic manner.

Paris, in particular, had a prominent impact on Finnish artists, most notably Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865-1931); Albert Edelfelt (1854-1905), Pekka Halonen (1865-1933) and Helen Schjerfbeck (1862-1946). This cultural journey led to Finland having its own pavilion at the 1900 World Fair in Paris, where Finnish artists showed 14 paintings, some of which were included in this exhibition.

The final part of the exhibition presented an overview of the various trends of early twentieth-century Modernism in Finland, including works from the Septem group represented by Magnus Enckell, Yrjö Ollila, Ellen Thesleff and Verner Thomé, and the November group founded in 1917 by Tyko Sallinen, Marcus Collin and Alwar Cawén, whose works drew on German expressionism.

The exhibition also explored the prominent position of women artists in Finland during this period, as exemplified by Fanny Churberg (1845-92), Elin Danielson-Gambogi (1861-1919), Maria Wiik (1853-1928), Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946) and Ellen Thesleff (1869-1954).

The works were selected primarily from the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki, supplemented by loans from other public and private collections in Finland and abroad: the Joensuu Art Museum, the Gösta Serlachius Museum of Fine Arts, the Gothenburg Museum of Art, and the Bank of Finland.

Exhibition Catalogue:
Northern Stars and Southern Lights: The Golden Age of Finnish Art 1870 -1920
© 2008 National Gallery of Ireland and the Authors
Editor Adriaan E. Waiboer with contributions by Leena Ahtola-Moorhouse, Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, Timo Huusko, Lea Keskitalo and Ville Lukkarinen
ISBN 978-1-904288-36-7