Gösta Serlachius Museum, Mänttä


Fête galante

At the time of the French Revolution the rococo style had been rejected as had everything which evoked royal privileges. Soon, however, nostalgia swept through the 19th century, leading to an idealised reinterpretation of times gone by. The new barons of industry dreamed of rediscovering the aristocratic way of life of Madame de Pompadour. They wanted to acquire the paintings of Antoine Watteau and his successors, Jean-Baptiste Pater and Nicolas Lancret. But such works were rare and it was easier to order copies.

These courtly, outdoor scenes, where only the pleasure of the moment mattered, were equally appreciated in the Nordic countries. Some paintings had already been acquired by the royal collections of Sweden and Denmark in the 18th century; others came onto the market after the French Revolution. At the end of the 19th century painters willingly sought inspiration in the costumed subjects that were held in high esteem by collectors.

In Period Costume

The desire to pursue the 18th century art of living gave rise to a new staging of history. Rather than commemorate great historic moments, artists sought to enter into the intimacy of their characters. Period décors and costumes added to the charm of the small narrative paintings for which Ernest Meissonier and his followers became extraordinarily famous.

A similar fascination engulfed the Nordic countries where the rococo period had been particularly prominent among the arts and the theatre. The works of Swedish artists who had become famous in France were repatriated, the value of others was re-established, providing inspiration for new works.

For a time, the reminder of the Swedish past was seen in Finland as a way of opposing russification. The programme for the decoration of the University of Helsinki paid tribute to the country’s history, notably with a celebration of the intellectual life in Turku during the 18th century at the heart of the Aurora Society. The philosophy of the Enlightenment triumphed once more, affirming with Voltaire that « The Light will come from the North ».

History illustrated

The programme for the murals of the University of Helsinki was the most ambitious history painting commission ever implemented in Finland. The evocation of the academic Aurora Society at the time of the Enlightenment was one of the episodes depicted.

Impassioned by everything relating to decorative painting, Akseli Gallen-Kallela was among the candidates for the commission before he turned to mythological representations of the Kalevala epic. Albert Edelfelt’s proposal was unanimously chosen but, on the artist’s death, remained unfinished whereupon Eero Järnefelt was appointed to complete the mural.

Yrjö Ollila

Madame Pompadour, costume sketches, 1929

Hannu Palosuo

Today is the frightening tomorrow of yesterday, 2010 (painting)

Salle de musique, 2011 (sculpture)

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