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Akseli Gallen-Kallela: Lake View, 1901

 

Donations and bequests have always played a vital role in the Ateneum's acquisitions, accounting for nearly half of its total works. In spring 2010, Akseli Gallen-Kallela's Lake View was donated to Ateneum by the late Georg C. Ehrnrooth MP.

Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865-1931): Lake View, 1901

Lake View shows similarities to later works by Gallen-Kallela on the Lake Keitele theme. It is one of his earliest depictions of the calm patch traditionally called 'the wake of Väinämöinen's boat' that appears on the surface of an otherwise slightly choppy lake. This features again in other Keitele works painted at the summer home in Konginkangas acquired by the family in 1904.

Lake View was painted in 1901, when the artist was working at Kalela, his lakeside studio in Ruovesi. The loose brushwork and strong colours of the background and particularly of the sky are offset by the meticulous detail of the slender young branches in the foreground. The 'wake of Väinämöinen's boat' divides the view into two sections diagonally. Similarly, the waves reflect two sunsets, a gentle golden one in the foreground and a more distant reddish one in the background. Thus the top and bottom halves of the picture form a whole divided into two moods.

The dual character of the painting therefore prompts a question about the artist's thematic aspirations. The work's provenance tells us that the painting was donated in 1903 by the Young Finns nationalist movement to Carl Mannerheim, Marshal C. G. E. Mannerheim's elder brother and Georg C. Ehrnrooth's grandfather. Among the donors was Louis Sparre, who was married to Eva Mannerheim. From Carl Mannerheim the work passed to his daughter Hélène Mannerheim, G.C. Ehrnrooth's mother.

Count Carl Mannerheim had been banished from Finland by Governor-General Nikolai Bobrikov and the painting was a farewell present from his friends. Against this background it is interesting to ponder whether the golden waves on the lake and the delicate tree shoots, neither of which is otherwise typical of Gallen-Kallela, made metaphorical allusions to an autonomous Finland and Finnish people during those years of Russian oppression. Similarly, the strong colours of the threatening sky may refer to the threat felt from Russia at the period.

Though Lake View was painted a few years before it was given to Carl Mannerheim it may have such mental associations. This idea concerning the dual character of the painting's theme is interesting and would deserve closer scrutiny.