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Albert Edelfelt: Women of Ruokolahti on the Church Hill, 1887


Albert Edelfelt (1854–1905) painted Women of Ruokolahti on the Church Hill in 1887.It was not very typical of Edelfelt’s previous work, because he was trying out a new, more naturalistic style.His aim was to paint a genre picture, and at one point he even contemplated taking a trip with Axel Gallén (later Akseli Gallen-Kallela) to Kajaani and Oulu in the north of Finland to see ‘real Finns’.The trip never came off, however, and Edelfelt travelled instead to Ruokolahti in South Karelia. Women of Ruokolahti on the Church Hillwas painted on the basis of sketches made in Ruokolahti and photographs taken in Haikko.

The severest criticism of the painting appeared in the Swedish-language Finland newspaper.According to the critic, the work was lacking in warmth and love for the subject. They called for a less pointed genre painting, because “…the brutal malice that characterises at least the woman with the baboon hands is not a particularly Finnish personality trait.”The nationalist-minded critic expressed the hope that, should Edelfelt learn to love the Finnish people, he would also be likened to the Kalevala, Runeberg and Aleksis Kivi by virtue of his works – and would earn the same respect.

Others took a more favourable view of the work, yet when the painting was ended in the collection of the Finnish Art Society and then those of the Ateneum in 1888, the new curator of the Art Society, Thorsten Waenerberg, would have refused to accept the work had Edelfelt not been promised already in 1885 that one of his works would be purchased for the society.