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National mythologies


The ideals of National Romanticism sparked interest in illustrating the Kalevala towards the end of the 19th century. Axel Gallén in particular sought suitable artistic solutions for illustrating Finland’s national epic. After various attempts at Realism, the artist chose Symbolism in order to compress and focus the emotions and messages conveyed by the poems. Adopting a Synthetist approach, Gallén developed a stylistic and minimalistic way of portraying the events of the Kalevala. This emphasised the mythical nature of the subject and differentiated it from normal everyday depiction.

The forest has always been important and close to Finns, even amounting to a mythical place. With the spread of Symbolist ideas and esoteric views, some artists began incorporating Pantheistic themes into their portraits of nature. These themes were in fact close to traditional Finnish folk beliefs. The forest and forest animals were used to portray not only gods but also human souls and emotions.