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Boy with a Crow & Old Woman and Cat
15.06.2007 - 02.09.2007


Ateneum offers a chance this summer to see two of Akseli Gallen-Kallela's (1865-1931) early masterpieces side by side for the first time since the museum's extensive Gallen-Kallela exhibition in 1996. Ateneum's Boy with a Crow will be accompanied by Old Woman and Cat from the Turku Art Museum. Gallen-Kallela was searching for the innermost nature of the Finnish people. The popularity of his paintings is indeed evidence of just how much he has influenced our perceptions of the original Finnish character.

In these two works, Akseli Gallen-Kallela depicted the Finnish people without any flattery, as was typical of the time. Boy with a Crow was created in summer 1884 in Tyrvää in western Finland, after the artist had finished his training in Helsinki. Old Woman and Cat, on loan from the Turku Art Museum, was mostly painted in summer 1885 near Salo in the southwest of Finland. At that time, Gallen-Kallela had already studied in Paris for a year. As time has gone by, these paintings have become almost symbolic of the Finnish people. The paintings reflect a close connection with nature and the sullen character of the models, but also a primitive kind of sensitivity.

Boy with a Crow has made people wonder how the 19-year-old Gallen-Kallela who had never been to France could paint such a picture in the manner of Parisian realism. His stylistic inspiration has obviously been the art of Jules Bastien-Lepage, admired by most young Finnish painters of the time. Actually Gallen-Kallela had taken private lessons the previous winter from Albert Edelfelt, who lived in Paris and had been the source of these influences of outdoor realism. The subject of the painting was the character of this peasant boy, whom the artist knew from before. Gallen-Kallela has said that the secret of his success with the painting was leading the boy to believe he could tame the crow by sprinkling salt on its tail feathers.

Old Woman and Cat for its part can be seen as a declaration of the radical naturalistic ideas advocated by writers August Strindberg and Emile Zola. One should only paint the truth, not beauty. The model for the painting was an old woman who lived like a hermit, herding sheep. Her face was purposely painted even more unattractive as the artist was giving his work the finishing touches in Paris. The painting was accepted to the Paris Salon in 1886. It has been said that Gallen-Kallela tried to sell this work to Ateneum, but since it was rejected, it ended up in the collections of the Turku Art Society in 1895.