Saturday, December 20, 2014

Akseli Gallen-Kalela, Imatra in Winter

Akseli Gallen-Kalela, Imatra in Winter, 1932

Akseli Gallen-Kalela (1865-1931) was a successful Finnish painter whose work has been very important to the development of Finnish national identity.  This is in part due to Gallen-Kalela's illustrations of scenes from the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, which are his best known works, such as The Defense of the Sampo and The Departure of Väinämöinen.  Gallen-Kalela was not able to study art until his disapproving father died in 1879, when he began drawing classes in Helsinki.  He then studied in Paris, where he met other significant Scandinavian artist and writers, such as August Strindberg.  Galen-Kallela had significant international success in his lifetime, having a joint show with Edvard Munch in Berlin in 1895, and showing all over the United States in the 1920s.  In 1900 he as commissioned to do a series of frescoes for the Finnish Pavilion at the Paris World Fair, and he fought on the front lines of the Finnish Civil War in 1918 until the regent invited him to design the flags and uniform decorations for the newly independent Finland.  I chose Imatra in Winter for today's painting in honor of the Winter Solstice on the 21st. It is a beautiful winter landscape that effectively communicates the crisp stillness of winter, evident in the snow that weighs down the trees, the bare branches that are entirely encased in ice, and the unmoving grey sky that suggests snowfall.  The only thing moving in the painting is the river, whose rushing waters are moving rapidly and purposefully through the center of the scene.  This landscape is an excellent representation of winter, with its intense calm, mingled with the rushing river to express the continual momentum of life and time.   Gallen-Kalela always insisted that his main inspiration was Finland itself, and this painting is a perfect example of how wonderfully he  was inspired.

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