Northern Stars & Southern Lights

8 November 2008 - 1 February 2009

Organised in collaboration with the Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki

An outstanding exhibition of Finnish painting from the period 1870 to 1920 will open in the Millennium Wing of the National Gallery of Ireland on 8 November 2008, and continues until 1 February 2009. This is the first time an exhibition of Finnish art on this scale has been organised in Ireland.

Northern Stars and Southern Lights: The Golden Age of Finnish Art 1870-1920 brings together 74 paintings and prints which show 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 explores the highpoint of Finnish painting, also known as the 'Golden Age of Finnish Art', when the country was still a Grand Duchy of Russia - it achieved independence in 1917. In particular, it looks 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 will also make reference to Early Modernism and the 1900 World Fair in Paris, where Finland had its own pavilion.

"We are delighted to have this opportunity to introduce our public to Finnish art and culture," says Raymond Keaveney, Director of the National Gallery of Ireland. "The exhibition provides a privileged insight into the world of Finnish art at a time when the country was undergoing tumultuous political upheaval just prior to achieving independence in 1917."

"Since the 1880s onwards and particularly through the 1890s, Finnish artists were determined to construct an artistic tradition for their country that lived up to an international standard but still had an entirely national character" says Ville Lukkarinen in his essay in the accompanying catalogue to the show.

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.

Moving away from its historic ties with Sweden and Russia, many Finnish artists were eager to look beyond their borders in search of a new cultural experience. From the 1870s Finnish artists were drawn to France. 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 are included in this exhibition.

The final part of the exhibition presents an overview of the various trends of early twentieth-century Modernism in Finland, including works from the Septem group which held annual exhibitions from 1912 to 1920 and here 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.

Though the majority of artists on display are male, the exhibition explores 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 74 works featured in the show have been 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.

Northern Stars and Southern Lights: The Golden Age of Finnish Art opens in the Millennium Wing of the National Gallery of Ireland on 8 November 2008 and continues until 1 February 2009.

Exhibition Curators: Adriaan E. Waiboer, NGI Curator of Northern European Art, and Timo Huusko, Curator at the Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki.

Catalogue
Edited by Adriaan E. Waiboer with written contributions by Leena Ahtola-Moorhouse, Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, Timo Huusko, Lea Keskitalo and Ville Lukkarinen. It includes biographical notes on the artists together with a timeline of Finnish history and art history from 1870 to 1920. Published by the National Gallery of Ireland. Price €19.95 (ISBN 978-1-904288-36-7).

Audio Guide
Exhibition Audio Guide is free with ticket admission.