An Unlikely Triumvirate (Finnish Art Nouveau)

In my post on Albert Edelfelt, I referred to the rising nationalism of the Finns under increasingly severe Russian political repression from the mid-1850s onwards. One of the manifestations of this rebellion was in the cultural sphere, with the Finns achieving a separate exhibition in the 1900 Paris World Fair under the aegis of Edelfelt. The Finnish Art Nouveau was engendered in those years by Edelfelt’s symbolist works; the other great influence on it was by his compatriot Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865-1931).

Woodblocks for illustration to Kalevala – Kullervo’s Curse. (A. Gallen-Kallela).

Gallen-Kallela, like Edelfelt, spent a considerable time in Paris: he trained at the Academie Julian and in the studio of Fernand Cormon in the 1880s. Among his acquaintances were Gauguin and Toulouse-Lautrec.

He also travelled in Germany and England, where he learned about printing techniques as well as exhibiting with the Russians at the Munich ‘Secession’ in 1898; he studied glass-painting and immersed himself in the Arts & Crafts movement. When he got back to Finland, he set about constructing a log studio in a ‘nationalist’ style. This attracted much attention among his compatriots, especially with the textiles in a pared-down, simple style.

Woodblock for Kalevala: Kullervo’s Curse. (A. Gallen-Kallela).

Woodblock for Kalevala: Kullervo’s Curse. (A. Gallen-Kallela).

One of the artists influenced by the simplicity of Gallen-Kallela’s log studio was a half-Swedish, half-Italian aristocrat named Louis Sparre (1863-1964). He was interested in the decorative arts, including book illustrations and furniture. [His wife, Eva Mannerheim (1870-1958), was to become the paramount Finnish artists in the fields of leatherwork and bookbinding.] Sparre’s furniture was influenced by the Glaswegian Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and he incorporated Finnish nationalism by the use of local woods but with a modernist viewpoint.

Väinämöinen’s Departure. (A. Gallen-Kallela).

Sparre and Gallen-Kallela founded the Iris Workshops in 1897 to promote the Arts & Crafts in Finland. They produced and sold some high quality homeware, aiming to mirror London’s Liberty department store, at the time the preeminent Art Nouveau house.  Although the Workshops closed within five years, they proved hugely influential, particularly when Sparre attracted the ceramicist Alfred William Finch to oversee the ceramics foundries of the workshop.

Chair, by Louis Sparre. (1906).

Chair, by Louis Sparre. (1906).

A SUITE OF FURNITURE, 4 PIECES. (Louis Sparre). Iris,1897-1902.

A suite of furniture, four pieces, by Louis Sparre. Iris, (1897-1902).

Design for a living room, by Louis Sparre.

Alfred W. Finch, a Belgian, was the third of the great Art Nouveau founders in Finland. Simplicity and modernism epitomised his ceramics, just as they did Sparre’s furniture. Their forms shied away from the gravity-defying delicacy of some of the wilder incarnations of Art Nouveau. Instead, they constituted a confident understatement; Finch’s use of flowing shapes was generally confined to decoration rather than form and often appeared almost naive in its bold stylization of nature.[1]

Bowl, by A. W. Finch. (1897-98).

Match stand, by A. W. Finch. (1900).

Match stand, by A. W. Finch. (1900).

Tureen with cover, by A. W. Finch. (Iris Finland, 1900).


[1] Stephen Escritt, Art Nouveau, Phaidon, 2000.