More Helsinki museums

In my short stay in Helsinki I was able to cram in visits to two more art institutions in addition to the impressive Ateneum (see my previous post). The first was to the Synebrichoff Art Museum (Synebrichoffin Taidemuseo), the former home of Paul and Fanny Synebrichoff, heirs to a lineage of merchants and businessmen of Russian extraction who amassed a large art collection in their lifetimes which they donated to the Finnish people in 1921. The collection has since grown through further donations and purchases and is now Finland’s largest ensemble of classical European paintings (the Synebrichoff is now part of the Finnish National Gallery along with the Ateneum and Kiasma, Helsinki’s contemporary art museum).

The Synebrichoff’s permanent collection is displayed in the second floor of the building, the interior décor or which was restored as recently as 2003 to the luxurious splendour of Paul and Fanny’s days in the 1910s (don’t miss the Empire room, fully done up from floor to ceiling in magnificent French First Empire style). The collection represents a very enjoyable tour of late-medieval to 19th century European painting including works by Lucas Cranach, Jacopo Bassano, Rembrandt, José de Ribera, Antoine Watteau, Giambattista Tiepolo, Camille Corot, and other well-known figures, as well as a very large set of Northern European portraits from the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Lucas Cranach the Elder, Portrait of a Young Lady (1525), Synebrichoffin Taidemuseo
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, The Rape of the Sabine Women (1718/19), Synebrichoffin Taidemuseo

The first floor of the Synebrichoff is devoted to temporary exhibitions and, luckily, my visit coincided with two first-rate offerings. Tiepolo: Venetian Fantasies (02/06–04/09/2016) presented drawings and (mainly) prints by the 18th-century Venetian lineage formed by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696–1770) and his sons Giovanni Domenico (1727–1804) and Lorenzo Baldissera (1736–1776). The Tiepolos were all-round international stars of their time, receiving high-profile commissions for wall and ceiling frescoes across Europe, but on this occasion I was particularly glad to discover Giambattista’s output as an etcher which included his Scherzi di Fantasia and I Capricci series, featuring fantastical and exotic themes and executed with masterful drawing ability and a beautiful sense of composition and the use of light and shadow.

Giambattista Tiepolo, The Family of the Oriental Peasant (c 1750), from Scherzi di Fantasia

The second temporary exhibition on offer at the Synebrichoff over the Summer and Autumn is Icons: Holy, Beautiful and Secular (16/04–31/12/2016), a touching selection of mainly Russian icons from the 16th century onwards from the museum’s own collection (More about icons, which I find exceedingly beautiful in their hieratic, almost abstract quality, in my upcoming piece on St Petersburg’s State Russian Museum).

Icon of the Forty Martyrs, late 19th century

The final visit I had time for whilst in Helsinki was to the Gallén-Kallelan Museo, the former home of Finnish painter Akseli Gallén-Kallela (1865–1931) in Tarvaspää, North-West of the capital. Gallén-Kallela (see my previous piece on Helsinki’s Ateneum) trained in Finland and Paris and belonged to the same generation as Albert Edelfelt and Edvard Munch, being a strong representative of contemporary romantic and nationalistic trends in art and influenced by Symbolism. He developed a pictorial language more narrative and expressive than naturalistic with which he explored themes of Finnish identity, in particular the foundational folk cycle known as the Kalevala (a well-known strand of his work). The Gallén-Kallelan Museo (built to the painter’s specifications) does not contain any of his major works and is more interesting from the point of view of Gallén-Kallela’s life and influences, containing the painter’s etching and painting studio as well as photographs, sketches, documentation and biographical materials. The trip to the museum (first by tram across the Helsinki suburbs, then on foot along the wooded shores of the Baltic sea) is a pleasure in itself (less so in colder weather, I’d imagine).

Akseli Gallén-Kallela, Kullervo Cursing (1899), Ateneum