- About Ateneum
In 1898 architect Josef Stenbäck was commissioned by F. A. Jusélius, a prominent businessman from Pori, to design a mausoleum for his deceased daughter Sigrid. The main frescoes and stained glass adornments for the mausoleum were designed by Akseli Gallen-Kallela and the frescoes in the entrance by Pekka Halonen. Stenbäck wanted the adornments to express the idea of “death’s victory over the body and the spirit’s victory over death”.
The main themes of Gallen-Kallela’s series were Spring, Building, Autumn, Destruction, Winter and By the River of Tuonela. Gallen-Kallela also painted the themes Paradise and Cosmos above the doors, as well as plant ornamentation and tree themes elsewhere. The original frescoes were completed in 1903 but did not survive. The current frescoes were painted in 1939 by Akseli’s son Jorma based on his father’s studies.
Spring (1903), tempera and oil
In his study for the fresco Spring, Gallen-Kallela depicts childhood and youth. At the centre of the painting a young man stands assuredly with his legs apart, aiming a crossbow up into the sky. Next to him stand a younger girl and boy, who look on spellbound. They are modelled on the artist’s own children, Kirsti and Jorma. At the very left edge of the painting stands a young woman, dressed in a black confirmation dress, who has turned her back and seems to be almost stepping out of the painting. The young woman is smelling the wood anemone she is holding, yet at the same time she is staring into the distance. She is modelled on the artist’s sister-in-law Anna Stina Slöör. The painting exudes the fresh greenness of early spring. In the background the artist has painted the lake scenery of Sääksmäki.
Building (1902), tempera and oil
The theme of the fresco Building is the construction of a log cabin, which has been interpreted as depicting adulthood. At the centre of the painting is the log cabin itself being built using the traditional timber joint technique; the intersecting logs form diagonals to the left and right. Next to the cabin sits a young mother breastfeeding a boy of 3 or 4 years of age, who is getting the milk of his deceased sister. In the right-hand corner the father uses an axe to shape the timber, and behind the cabin the grandfather, dressed as a figure of death, lends a hand by drilling a hole for a tenon into a log. The background theme is again from Sääksmäki, this time a rocky meadow leading down to the lake in the upper-right corner. In this painting Gallen-Kallela has combined his impressions of reality from Karelia and Pori region.
By the River of Tuonela (1903), tempera and oil
The journey through life of the characters in Gallen-Kallela’s frescoes ends by the mythical river of Tuonela. This painting depicts disconsolate people waiting their turn for a boat that will take them across to the afterlife. Some are undressing while waiting while others just stare blankly into the distance. In the background the blood red Swan of Tuonela looks on from the river. Gallen-Kallela used the local people he had met for his models: an old man from Pori, an old woman with her shawl and walking stick from Ruovesi, and a young girl with tuberculosis in the foreground. He also included his artist friend Pekka Halonen with the moustache and himself to the far right. Unlike the other figures in the painting, the artist looks still vigorous and active as he is holding a trowel in his hand and looking to his left, back to the land of the living.