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Ellen Thesleff

 (1869 - 1954)
Ellen Thesleff was active/lived in Finland.  Ellen Thesleff is known for painting.

Ellen Thesleff

Biography from Bukowski, Helsinki

Though normally characterized in terms of poetry, music and dance, the art of Ellen Thesleff may also be described as an enigmatic portrayal of the dream of life that transcends the commonplace.  Particularly in her later works she wiped away the burden of earthiness from her color palette, focusing on airy, layered color fantasies of no set form.  If we insist on linking it to any art historical style or movement, then this period may be described as the futurism of Ellen Thesleff, as everything in these works is in motion, and indeed multidimensional.

Combat evokes the mood of Finland’s Continuation War of 1941-44.  One Finnish inspiration for this subject seems to be Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s Defense of the Sampo painting (1896), in which the Kalevala heroes engage with aerial raiders from a boat on the water.  L. Bäcksbacka, the first biographer of Ellen Thesleff, in turn referred to potential influences in Eetu Isto’s painting Attack (1899).  The subject is also familiar from a smaller 1940 painting (Finnish National Gallery 1998, no. 308) that differs in detail but has a similar basic layout.  This larger version now offered for sale has a bluer overall color scheme, with the arm of the man in defensive posture creating a powerful diagonal in the theme, and the figure of the attacking beast also differs from the antagonist in the earlier Combat painting.

While Ellen Thesleff has engaged with her masculine subject, she once again infuses the canvas with a powerful, airy and multi-directional design from her imagery of the violent battle.  The boat trip that is the artist’s preferred metaphor for life here brings an added dimension to a subject that was so dear to her.  It is also surprising to note how readily the Combat work painted by Ellen Thesleff in 1942 can be mistaken for a contemporary artwork in respect of its fresh and avant-garde approach to color, composition, intangibility of form, plurality of expression and mobility.

Created in 1942, Combat was exhibited as work no. 41 at the Kunsthalle Helsinki Youth Exhibition on 2 – 24 October 1943, to which Ellen Thesleff was invited in person as guest of honor.  The work was also exhibit no. 95 of the artist’s memorial exhibition at the L. Bäcksbacka Art Salon (Unioninkatu 28 in Helsinki) in 1954, since which time it has not been publicly displayed.

Leena Ahtola-Moorhouse

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About  Ellen Thesleff

Born:  1869
Died:   1954
Known for:  painting