From rococo to realism

Profane, so-called free art, had its hesitant origin in Finland in the 18th century Isak Wacklin’s rococo portraits and in Nils Schillmark’s paintings, which employed the Neoclassical idiom.

Elias Martin’s landscape paintings documenting the fortification of Viapori represent a unique curiosity from the same period.

At the turn of the nineteenth century, Finnish artists absorbed influences from the Romantic movement, and began to produce soulful portraits as well as genre paintings that idealised nature.

The most famous Romantic artists included Gustaf Wilhelm Finnberg, Alexander Lauréus and Robert Wilhelm Ekman.

In 1809, when Finland was severed from Sweden and brought under Russian rule, the educated classes were divided into three groups: pro-Swedish, pro-Russian and pro-Finnish.

Those who aligned themselves with the native country wanted Finland to have its own history and identity.

Painting was seen as an excellent means of serving nationalistic ends.

In the mid-nineteenth century, a handful of Finnish artists studied in Düsseldorf, and soon applied the lessons they had imbibed to the depiction of the ideal Finnish landscape.

The most famous landscape painter of the Düsseldorf School in Finland was Werner Holmberg, whose career was cut short by tuberculosis.

The Düsseldorf group also included a woman artist, Fanny Churberg, whose paintings evoked a mysterious country filled with harsh tracts of wilderness.

The educated pro-Finnish contingency had a growing appetite for works of art.

They now wanted historical paintings as well as idealised landscapes. It was decided that Albert Edelfelt, the most promising young artist studying at the Finnish Art Society’s drawing school, should be sent to Antwerp to study history painting.

He duly painted a few historical subjects to satisfy his patrons, the most famous being Kuningatar Blanka (Queen Blanca, 1877), which is now in the Ateneum Art Museum.

However, Edelfelt also felt drawn irresistibly to Paris, the centre of plein-air painting, where a colony of Nordic artists was forming.

The so-called Parisian period began, and realism was launched in Finnish art.

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