Magnus Enckell. Ateneum Art Museum

Landmark exhibition celebrates 150 years since the birth of Magnus Enckell – One of the leading figures of the Golden Age of Finnish art

Ateneum Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki. 23 October 2020 – 14 February 2021

Ateneum Art Museum presents a major exhibition of works by the painter Magnus Enckell (1870–1925) from 23 October 2020 to 14 February 2021. The exhibition offers a comprehensive overview of the work of one of the most significant names of the golden age of Finnish art, highlighting his legacy and multifaceted practice.

Celebrated in his native Finland, Magnus Enckell’s diverse oeuvre remains little known outside the country. The exhibition will feature over 100 works spanning five decades of the artist’s career including portraits, landscapes, still lifes and images inspired by Roman and Greek mythology. It traces the evolution of Enckell’s work from a naturalisic style, through Symbolism inspired by his studies in France in the 1890s, to Colorism and the influence of Post-Impressionism from the turn of the twentieth century.

A true avant-garde, Enckell was one the first Finnish artists to break with Naturalism and switch from the traditional oil painting on canvas, to more experimental watercolour, charcoal and mixed media techniques, and his contribution to early Modernism in Finland was considerable. Alongside many rarely seen paintings the exhibition includes these watercolours, together with an extensive body of drawings, sketchbooks and photographs from the artist’s own archive.

Magnus Enckell: Boy with Skull (1893). Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Matti Janas

Both a revolutionary and a conservative, Enckell promoted radical ideas in his artwork but he also drew on the traditions of culture and education. He was a dreamer but also a man of the world, a curator of exhibitions, the chairman of the Artists’ Association of Finland, and one of the founders of the Septem group of Finnish colorist painters.

Working during a time when Finland was undergoing tumultuous political upheaval prior to gaining independence from Russia in 1917, Enckell’s artistic journey saw him courageously change styles and challenge societal norms. This journey can be traced through some of his most well-known paintings drawn from Ateneum’s own collection; Enckell’s 1890s subdued palette and emphasis on drawing, seen in works such as Boy with Skull (1893) and The Awakening (1894), began to shift in a more painterly direction, towards the colour and light-filled Neo-Impressionism in Awakening Faun (1914). Yet, a delicately sensual approach to his subjects runs throughout the artist’s practice. In particular, his works depicting young male nudes are imbued with a tenderness which, only in the last 75 years, has been publicly discussed as pertinent to Enckell’s own sexuality.

Magnus Enckell: Awakening Faun (1914). Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, coll. Hoving. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Janne Tuominen

The exhibition curators are the director of Ateneum Art Museum, Marja Sakari; the director of collections management at the Finnish National Gallery, Riitta Ojanperä; and the chief curator of exhibitions at the Ateneum Art Museum, Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff. The exhibited works come from both public and private collections in Finland, including Amos Rex’s Sigurd Frosterus Collection, Tampere Art Museum, Turku Art Museum, the Serlachius Museums and several private collections.

The exhibition is accompanied by the publication of a richly illustrated exhibition catalogue edited by Hanne Selkokari and Lene Wahlsten. Published in Finnish, Swedish and English, the catalogue includes essays written by Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, Jukka Cadogan, Timo Huusko, Harri Kalha, Marja Lahelma, Riitta Ojanperä, Anne-Maria Pennonen, Marja Sakari, Hanna-Reetta Schreck, Hanne Selkokari, Riikka Stewen, Juha-Heikki Tihinen, and Anu Utriainen.

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