Wednesday, December 27, 2017

I am not I – famous and forgotten portraits (exhibition at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum)

Albert Edelfelt: Portrait of the Artist's Wife Ellan Edelfelt. 1896. Oil on canvas. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Kansallisgalleria / Janne Mäkinen.

I am not I – famous and forgotten portraits, 8 June–31 December 2017. Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Bulevardi 40, 00120 Helsinki. Curated by the director Kirsi Eskelinen. Visited on 27 Dec 2017.

Official introduction: "The exhibition I am not I approaches portraiture through a range of different themes and perspectives, while also providing an insight into the history and development of the genre. Themes explored include power and identity as well as memories and their preservation. The works on display cover the full range of portraiture, from imposing portrayal of royals and other powerful figures to intimate depictions of families, along with artists’ own self-portraits. In addition to well-known persons and notable figures of their day, the exhibition features not only portraits of people whose identities have faded into obscurity over the years, but also portraits that for some other reason have been consigned to oblivion. The time period covered by the exhibition extends from the 16th century until present day."

"The exhibition includes several rare works that have not previously been displayed in public, including Lorenz Pasch the Younger’s (1733–1805) portrait of King Gustav III of Sweden (1783). The Royal High Court of Vaasa was founded in 1776 and to mark the occasion, King Gustav III donated his portrait to the institution. It is currently displayed in the court’s main chamber, and normally accessible to only a few people."

"The exhibition also features highlights that will remain on display for a limited period only. The first highlight is a series of works themed around former President of Finland, Urho Kekkonen, including a portrait by Ilya Glazunov from 1973, self-portraits created under the tutelage of Finnish artist Kimmo Pyykkö as well as a further self-portrait from 1975. The Urho Kekkonen highlights will be on display 8 June–3 September 2017."

"The second highlight is a portrait of former President of Finland, Tarja Halonen, painted by Rafael Wardi. It will be on display as part of the exhibition 5 September–29 October 2017. The third highlight comprises portraits of a further two former Finnish presidents, Carl Gustaf Mannerheim and P. E. Svinhufvud painted by Eero Järnefelt. These can be viewed 31 October–31 December 2017."

AA:  A compact but intriguing exhibition about the theme of the portrait and the self-portrait.

The perspective of eternity is introduced in samples from ancient Egypt and classical antiquity. On display are ancient death masks as well as those of Finnish masters of the Golden Age such as Edelfelt and Gallen-Kallela.

An attractive feature is the presence of several portraits by artists of their fellow artists. A chain of reflection and self-reflection is put into motion.

One of the most startling juxtapositions is the presence of the contemporary artist Pasi Tammi's portrait of Kari Raivio MD, rector and chancellor of the Helsinki University together with the artist's self-portrait of his own face horribly bloodied and disfigured in a bicycle accident.

There are warm and affectionate family portrait series for instance of Albert Edelfelt's family. Hanna Frosterus-Segerstråle painted her own son Lennart Rafael at the age of six weeks.

The theme of power is introduced in the first room with changing portraits of presidents of Finland. On display today are Carl Gustaf Mannerheim (our President #6 in 19441946) and P. E. Svinhufvud (President #3 in 19311937), both portraits in unique copies painted by Eero Järnefelt on commission by the Kymiyhtiö company in 1933. Mannerheim's commanding posture is impressive, and the earthy authority of Svinhufvud is convincing. Both figures are topical in Finland's current centenary reflections. Svinhufvud was the leader of the Finnish delegation to Lenin to acquire his signature to the recognition of Finland's independence on 31 December 1917. Mannerheim was the military leader of the White Guards in Finland's Civil War of 1918.

In the same room there are also two portraits of the Swedish King Charles XII, Carolus Rex, our war-mad king, a key figure in the fate of Finland. He was the leader of the Great Northern War in which he (we) attacked Norway, Denmark, Poland, Lithuania, and Russia. Facing Peter the Great's army Charles XII sought an alliance with the Ottoman Empire but failed. His defeat was the beginning of the end of Sweden's reign as a great power in Europe. Peter the Great conquered Finland and conducted a horrendous rampage (isoviha) while Charles XII was stuck in Turkey (kalabaliken i Bender). As a reaction to Charles XII's attack Peter the Great founded St. Petersburg, the sea fortress of Kronstadt, and Petrozavodsk.

We live in an age of an inflation of the portrait and the self-portrait thanks to the ubiquity of the cell phone camera and the mania of the selfie. But nothing can replace a professional photographer's insight in taking a portrait photograph.

And no photograph can replace an artist's vision in painting a portrait. A painted portrait is a story of a relationship, usually of affection, or love, or (in official portraits) respect and admiration. An interpretation of character, spirit, dignity, and personality. For now and forever.

Wilho Sjöström: The Composer Leevi Madetoja. 1941. Oil on canvas. 100 x 81. Purchase 14.4.1941. A III 2448. Finnish National Gallery. Photo: Asko Penna.

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