Saturday, January 30, 2016

Colour Liberated. Finnish Art Reformers 1908-1914 (a Didrichsen 50th anniversary exhibition)

Verner Thomé: Bathing Boys. 1910. Oil on canvas, 108,5 x 130. Hoving Collection / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen. Please click to enlarge the images.
Väri vapautuu. Suomen taiteen uudistajia 1908-1914. Aalto - Cawén - Ekelund - Enckell - Finch - Lönnberg - Mäkelä - Oinonen. Exhibition 14.8.2015 - 31.1.2016
    Exhibition committee: Jarno Peltonen, Otto Selén.
    Didrichsen Art Museum, Kuusilahdenkuja 1, 00340 Helsinki.

Väri vapautuu / Färgernas frihet / Colour Liberated. 144 p. Helsinki: Didrichsen, 2015.
    Introductions by Peter Didrichsen and Risto Ruohonen. Main essay "Painting Shattered by Colour, Light and Brush" by Marja-Terttu Kivirinta.
    Includes complete colour illustrations of the artworks, ordered by the artist, each with a page of introduction.
    Trilingual: Finnish / Swedish / English.

Official introduction: "The Didrichsen Art Museum's 50th anniversary exhibition presents paintings based on pure colours, a new expression of which emerged in Finland in 1908-1914. The comprehensive exhibition shows works by 16 artists, on loan from leading Finnish art museums as well as from the Didrichsen Art Museum's own collections".

"The more than 50 works in the exhibition show examples of motifs from Hogland by Verner Thomé, A. W. Finch, and Magnus Enckell, strong expressionist works by Mäkelä who was influenced by Edward Munch, as well as colourist paintings by Tyko Sallinen."

AA: In autumn 2015 several prominent exhibitions were opened celebrating the revelation of pure colour in Finnish art in the period of early Modernism: the Sigurd Frosterus collection at Amos Anderson Art Museum, the Bäcksbacka collection at Helsinki Art Museum, the Alvar & Ragni Cawén exhibition at Tampere Art Museum - and the Colour Liberated exhibition at Didrichsen. All share many of the same artists from the same period. There is room for everybody, and these four exhibitions complement each other in an exciting way. The Frosterus exhibition is based on the selections of an individual collector and colour theorist. The Bäcksbacka collection is based on artists favoured by a great gallerist and patron. The Cawén exhibition covers two entire careers, in which colour is but one yet essential dimension.

Didrichen's Colour Liberated is a succinct yet richly gratifying and versatile survey into a definite period. It is based on a wide knowledge of the entire scene, displaying well-known masterpieces with less-known but equally fascinating discoveries. The joy of colour can also be seen as an early Modernist reflection of the last decade of la Belle Époque until the beginning of the First World War.

In the process of the liberation of colour the first Finnish artists' groups (Septem and November) were established. Verner Thomé, painter of the Bathing Boys on top, was one of the most talented members of the groups. They also mounted the first group exhibition in Finnish art at Ateneum in 1912.

Magnus Enckell: The Awakening Faun. 1914. Oil. 65,5 x 81. The Hoving Collection, Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Janne Tuominen.

Magnus Enckell was the leader and the pathbreaker. He had been influenced by Symbolism, and his friends included Sergei Diaghilev and Sigurd Frosterus. While still favouring ideas from ancient mythology he now let pure colours explode. This illustration does not do justice to the bright colour of the painting; in the catalogue the colour is more faithful. Some of Enckell's painting may also be expressions of "secret love".

Magnus Enckell: A Park View from San Remo. 1913. Oil. Turku Art Museum.
Film critics have noticed a trend of the digital age of grading the colours of Hollywood blockbusters to orange and teal. Teal is a greenish blue, not far from cyan. Those were the very colours also favoured by Finnish colourist painters before the First World War.

A. W. Finch: Cliffs at Porto Venere. 1908. Oil. 33 x 44. Collection Nils Dahlström / Turku Art Museum. Photo: Turku Art Museum Archive.
A. W. Finch was a prominent designer and artist inspired by Cézanne, Gauguin, and van Gogh, and, admiring Seurat and Signat, he also became the most important Finnish Pointillist. Born in Belgium he moved to Finland on the invitation of Count Louis Sparre to manage his Iris factory.

Jalmari Ruokokoski: A Girl. 1911. Oil. 64,5 x 54,5. Bequest Ludvig & Aija Wennervirta / Hämeenlinna Art Museum.
The decisive influence for Jalmari Ruokokoski was Edvard Munch. This reproduction is again more subdued than the painting itself, and other paintings of Ruokokoski on display are more stark and colourful, with delicious reds and oranges and Fauvist affinities.

Tyko Sallinen: In the Sauna. 1914. Oil. 64 x 86. Collection Nils Dahlström / Turku Art Museum. 
Tyko Sallinen, also influenced by Fauvism, was a true original, a terrible guy who painted in "agony and ecstasy". There are seven works by Sallinen on display, and it is an interesting and unusual selection of my favourite Finnish artist. Here again I do not think the colour reproduction is faithful. The dominant colour is actually more "teal" or "cyan" than pure blue.

Ellen Thesleff: A Landscape from Murole. 1912. Oil. 44 x 47 cm. Didrichsen Art Museum. Photo: Jussi Pakkala.
Ellen Thesleff was one of the most refined masters of the period. Women artists were not fairly treated at the time, but their oeuvre is their lasting legacy. In this reproduction the reflection should be red and brighter.

The hanging and the lighting are beautiful. Some of the paintings are covered by reflecting glass. Downstairs there is the opportunity to put things into perspective with two refined exhibitions from Didrichsen's own collections: a Pre-Columbian exhibition and an Oriental exhibition. Plus a non-stop video about Viljo Revell, the architect of the Modernist building. In the sculpture park and inside there are samples for instance of Didrichsen's Henry Moore collection. The catalogue is a gratifying companion and a valuable keepsake with complete illustrations of the entire exhibition. The colours in the catalogue are more faithful to the originals, but on the internet the reproductions fail to convey the brightness, warmth, and glow of the paintings.

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