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Akseli Gallen-Kallela: Kullervo Cursing, 1899

 

The subject of this painting is taken from Finland's national epic, the Kalevala. The story of Kullervo, son of Kalervo, is a grim one. During his hard life Kullervo suffered great violence and was himself guilty of terrible deeds.Kullervo Cursing depicts one turning point in the story.

Kullervo's family are racked by jealousy and sibling rivalry. He himself is an orphan with supernatural powers who is sold into servitude and sent into the wilds as a cattle herder. The evil mistress of the house has filled the loaf she gives him with a stone and when he tries to cut into it he breaks his knife, the only memento of his father. Infuriated, Kullervo summons up a new herd made up of wolves, bears and lynx, which gobble her up. However, Kullervo's problems do not end there and an endless spiral of revenge destroys not only his new-found family but also Kullervo himself. The setting, bathed in the sunlight of early autumn, is magnificent. It is a work that combines the beautiful and the tragic.

Kullervo Cursing depicts rage and frustration, the impotence of someone wrongly treated - understandable feelings that led the youth into a spiral of revenge and violence. Is there any other way for the Kullervos of the world?