I visited art exhibition recently in Finnish national gallery Ateneum
Magic north exhibition is about symbolism in art from Finnish and Norwegian artists from the end of the 19th century.
Major works were from leading artists of the time such Edvard Munch, Theodor Kittelsen, Akseli Galen-Gallela, Hugo Simberg and Gerhard Munthe.
I have always personally enjoyed the stillness in Munch's works.
If Finnish people tend to feel "Slavic melancholy" that is the main feeling I get when I look any paintings by Munch (Nordic melancholy in this case). Munch's paintings have many psychological layers and he was one of the leading names of art symbolism in Europe at the time.
1895 (c) Edvard Munch
"Self-portrait with a cigarette"
1895 (c) Edvard Munch
I was very impressed by this self-portrait I saw in the exhibition.
Different shades of blue, red, purple and shades of black and gray together a create misty illusion. Almost like Munch appears from nowhere slightly surprised but peacefully continues smoking. It's not too difficult to imagine that artist is just about to start telling us a creeping story behind one of his paintings.
Clever use of shadows and facial expression also reminds from nightmares, dreams, Gothic tales and the complexity of human mind.
Gerhard Munthe (1849 - 1929) was a new name for me. He was an illustrator, painter and also tapestry designer. He is best-known from illustrations to depict viking sagas and illustrating Norwegian middle-age ballads.
Image from Ateneum's collection
Munthe's tapestries and illustrations have similar style to Galen-Gallela`s works.
Both artist were inspired by jugend / art noveu style.
Change of centuries was also time when national identity was starting to form in many countries. People were more interested from their roots and folklore of their native lands than ever before.
"The polar bear king"
One of the iconic images in the exhibition was Theodor Kittelsen's illustration "Polar bear king". Kittelsen's artworks were familiar for me from Norwegian fairy tale books I read as a child.
Theodor Kittelsen (1857–1914) was a painter and illustrator.
In Norway he has an iconic position as one of national artists and illustrators.
Kittelsen has three main elements in his artworks that push through.
- world through child's eyes
- magical atmosphere
- Visually appealing landscapes
Kittelsen's illustration "Nokken"
Shows well-known water demon from Nordic mythology.
Nokken was a creature that captured swimmers and drowned them.
In the old times children were warned not to go to swim too deep otherwise
"Nokken would catch them". We have this similar legend in Finland as well.
I remember this Kittelsen's image from my childhood.
Few years ago I was on a photography trip in protected forest area.
This is one of the landscape pictures that I took:
I also spotted "Nokken" there and instantly remembered illustration.
Interesting how some images are just stacked in our heads.
Hugo Simberg (1873-1917) was Finnish painter and graphic artist.
He was one of the leading names of symbolic art in Finland at the time.
Simberg is known from his fairy tale themes. Quite often a mix with christian subjects
and folklore characters.
"Garden of death"
One of my personal favorites among Simberg's works is the "Garden of death" (which was not in the exhibition). Represents skeletons taking care of flowers. I'm drawn by the gentle way death embraces life. I think that is one of the main theme in Simberg's works. You can find some dark humor in them.
Trolls and little demons Simberg's graphic artworks and paintings, are they just characters from fairy tales or are they more inner demons in the artist (or viewer's) mind?
Akseli Galen-Kallela (1865-1931) was one of the most remarkable fine artists in Finland.
His style was combination of symbolism and realism and he is very well known from creating artworks to Finnish national anthology Kalevala. He also took Finnish graphic arts to whole new level with new methods he evolved.
Nationalism was rising in the end of the 19th century Europe and in Finland Galen-Kallela was one of the leading names while creating Finnish cultural "identity".
Iconic paintings that are based on Kalevala, heroes of the north, were also seen as a symbol
of Finland becoming a country of it's own.
Overall I enjoyed the "The magic north" exhibition.
Symbolic paintings really challenge the viewer to think deeper.
How was the world at the time these artworks were created and how was the art world?
How symbolic art has affected the art world today and our modern visual culture?
The symbolism, horror-romance, depicting characters from Nordic myths to illustrations
by these artists has had long time consequences to this time.
They've inspired many generations of new artists and illustrators also
modern day musicians and film makers.
Nightwish has used Simberg's most famous painting "wounded angel"
as an inspiration for their music video "Amaranth".
Kittelsen's artworks have appeared in the covers of Norwegian heavy metal bands.
Kalevala has intrigued the minds of many artists.
Disney comic artist Don Rosa who is extremely popular in Finland
used Galen-Kallela's Kalevala works as an inspiration for his Disney/Scrooge McDuck story.
Finnish children's book author Mauri Kunnas
was also inspired by Galen-Kallela's Kalevala artworks
while making his book "The canine Kalevala"
Exhibition combining pieces from Finnish and Norwegian artists worked very well.
Symbolism and fairy tale subjects kept the exhibition solid.
For anyone who is interested about Nordic symbolic art I can recommend to take a closer look to the artworks from any of these particular artists.