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 Akseli Valdemar Gallen-Kallela  (1865 - 1931)



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Lived/Active: Finland/France      Known for: nude figure, landscape and genre painting-Finnish culture

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Ad Code: 2
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from Auction House Records.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
Biography from Christie's London, King Street:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

A ground-breaking artist, who made a made a huge contribution to defining the Finnish artistic national consciousness, Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s career nevertheless began with a conventional training at the Académie Julian in Paris.  His teachers, William Bouguereau and, later, Fernand Cormon, were traditional proponents of a highly polished style of Academic art that was a world removed from the symbolist, avant-garde paintings which have come to define the artist. 

Gallen-Kallela’s art was based on a vision of Finland that was inspired by the Kalevala, an epic poem rooted in mythology and oral folklore, and which inspired a number of other artists seeking to establish a Finnish national identity on the country’s road to complete autonomy from Russia.  His first paintings on the subject, executed in the early 1890s, were characterized by an incongruous juxtaposition of mythical subjects with a Realist, Salon style, not dissimilar to that of Jules Bastien-Lepage; later in the decade, as he worked out of his isolated studio, Kalela, in the wilderness of Ruovesi, a remote lake and forest region about 150 miles North of Helsinki, he developed a wholly new artistic vision.  His figure paintings became more linear, stylized and decorative, while his landscapes came close to abstraction.  Depicting the unpopulated, tranquil vistas of the sub-Arctic in a painterly style that was characterized by bright color and flat picture planes, Gallen-Kallela created paintings which recall the works of the French Nabis, but in a language that has a haunting resonance.  As Adriaan van der Hoeven notes: “He distanced himself from realism and naturalism and, in the spirit of the times, worked in the more decorative, monumental style that henceforth typified the Kalevala themes of the second half of the 1890s.  The increased distance from reality meant that the discrepancy between form and content disappeared.  It was as if, in his voluntary isolation in the heart of the Finnish countryside, he found the peace to concentrate fully on what had occupied him for so long and was so dear to his heart: the shaping of the stories of the Kalevala.  Not only did they come to define the identity of the Finnish people, but also his own being (Exh. cat. Akseli Gallen-Kallela – The Spirit of Finland, Groningen, 2007, p. 47).

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