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Akseli Gallen-Kallela


Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865–1931), original Swedish name Axel Gallén until 1907, is one of Finland’s most important artists. From the very beginning of his career he captivated the attention of the art world with his naturalistic, unromanticized renderings of ordinary people. Later, his great works on subjects from Finland’s national epic the Kalevala made him the supreme interpreter of Finnish character as expressed in myth and the leading exponent of nationalist feeling in painting.

Axel Gallén grew up in a Swedish-speaking family in Tyrvää in Finland. He trained in the drawing school of the Finnish Arts Society until 1884 and privately with Adolf von Becker and Albert Edelfelt. From 1884 to 1889 he lived in Paris, where he studied at the Académie Julian and made his debut at the Salon in 1886. In Paris he worked in a realist manner, influenced by the Scandinavian naturalists and Jules Bastien-Lepage.

Back in Finland he adopted a more Synthetist style, and around 1894 began to introduce allegorical symbolism into his work, focusing on the mystery of life and art. He built a studio in the remote area of Ruovesi, where the young Hugo Simberg came to study under him.

Gallen-Kallela’s most famous works date from the late 1890s and illustrate the Kalevala, Finland’s national epic. After studying fresco painting in Italy in 1898, he produced ceiling frescoes inspired by the Kalevala for the Finnish pavilion at the Paris World Fair in 1900 and for the Juselius family mausoleum in Pori in 1902. In 1907 Gallen-Kallela was invited to become a member of the Die Brücke group and took part in its first exhibition. He travelled widely all over Finland and Europe, and spent long periods in Africa and America with his family.