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Hugo Simberg


In Hugo Simberg’s (1873–1917) work fantasy, realistic portraiture and landscape combine to form a unique oeuvre in which ’another reality’ is always present. In addressing the mystery of life and death Simberg’s output is always imbued with humanity. If Symbolism was a passing phase for some artists, it was for Simberg his natural mode of expression.

Hugo Simberg was born into a civil servant’s extended family, surrounded by relations. The summers were spent on Niemenlauta farm on the Gulf of Finland, where the scenery was to permeate Simberg’s entire pictorial world. He first studied art in Viipuri, then continued at the Finnish Art Society drawing school in Helsinki, where he found the academic approach uncongenial. Rather, he applied to be accepted as a private pupil by Akseli Gallen-Kallela at the latter’s wilderness studio in Ruovesi, central Finland. There he learned how to produce art graphics and woodcuts, and to use tempera. On various trips to Italy he learned about fresco techniques. He also visited Paris several times.

Simberg’s Symbolist bent was first expressed in Frost and Autumn (1895) painted in Ruovesi. His other fantasy figures represented angels, the devil and death. However, he also painted more realistic portraits and landscapes, though the latter tended to express strong Symbolist feeling, Spring Evening (During the Ice Break) (1897) making a good example.

In the early 20th century Simberg acquired a studio in Helsinki. His bestknown painting, The Wounded Angel, was completed in 1903, and a few years later he was to paint a copy for Tampere Cathedral, with the impressive wall and ceiling paintings.