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Akseli Gallen-Kallela: First Lesson, 1887–89


It is interesting to note that Axel Gallén (from 1907 Akseli Gallen-Kallela) was received more favourably as a genre painter than many other artists.One possible explanation for this is that he was known to have connections to Inner Finland.Although he was born in Pori, he grew up on a farm in Tyrvää, where he learned to speak Finnish.

The still unfinished First Lesson attracted attention when it was displayed in the spring exhibition of the Finnish Art Society in 1887. Gallén’s original idea was to paint the poet Runeberg with Ensign Stål, the hero of the poet’s eponymous epic poem, but Gallén was not happy with the figure of the poet on the left hand side of the canvas, and had already painted over it when the picture was exhibited.The model for Ensign Stål was an old man named Joonas who lived in a sauna cottage at Ekola Croft in Keuruu.Gallén later added the girl doing her homework, who in the artist’s own words is “a very banal little lass”. He painted the girl in Paris using a local model.