Friday, September 24, 2010

Finnish Venus: Saimi's Back by Eero Järnefelt

Saimi's Back date unkown

Eero Järnefelt was another fine painter from the Finnish golden age and parts of his story link to those of Akseli Gallen-Kallela, the character of Aino and Sibelius.

The artist's father General August Alexander Järnefelt

Eero Erik Nikolai Järnefelt (8 November 1863-15 November 1937) was born in Viipurii, then part of Finland but now named Vyborg and located, since the end of World War 2 in Russia. In fact, Järnefelt's father was a General in the Russian army and his mother Elisabeth (née Clodt von Jürgensburg) was from St Petersburg. Although he started his art studies in Helsinki it was the time he spent studying at the St Petersburg Academy of Arts, under his uncle Mikhail Klodt, that really started to form his style. Klodt's love of sky and clouds influenced Järnefelt considerably. From 1886-1888 Järnefelt studied in Paris where he became friends with the subject of our previous post, Akseli Gallen-Kallela.

Aino Sibelius by her brother

Returning to Finland he travelled to Keuruu in 1889, where he met actress Saimi Swan (1867-1944), the subject of the picture at the top of our post. They were married in 1890. Saimi worked as a translator and translated the works of Dickens, Henry Rider Haggard and George Elliott into Finnish. In 1892 Järnefelt's sister, Aino (1871-1969), married Jean Sibelius and the two families were later neighbours. Saimi and Aino were close and shared a passion for gardening.

A family portrait of the Järnefelt's taken in 1896 shows conductor Arnas (the tall figure standing in the centre), on his left the painter Eero and standing next to him his his wife Saimi. Sitting on the far left is Aino Sibelius with the composer seated third from left.

Aino had met Sibelius through another of her brothers Armas Järnefelt, a conductor and a fellow student of the composer. Aino, of course, was named after the character in the Kalevala; a name which, until the stories were collected in the earlier part of the nineteenth century, did not exist; as it was invented by compiler Elias Lönnrot.

Koli (1927) by Eero Järnefelt

In September 1909 the Järnefelt's and the Sibelius' took a holiday to Koli in Northern Karelia which was already becoming a popular destination for artists with an interest in the Kalevala and Karelianism. Järnefelt had first visited the reion in 1892. It was this visit that gave Sibelius the impetus to compose his Fourth symphony, which he dedicated to Eero Järnefelt. The hilly region around Koli was a popular subject for Eero.

Saimi in the meadow (1892)

Although he painted pictures of his wife a number of time this nude of her seems to be the only one. Indeed nudes were not a suject that Järnefelt habitually painted so this one of Saimi is a rare example.

Portrait of Saimi

The picture itself uses three big blocks of flat background tone to emphasise the golden colours of her body. The rather awkward pose indicates that perhaps she has her right leg stretched out to one side. It is not a great work but a good, solid Renoiresqe effort.

Eero Järnefelt

Apart from his normal paintings Järnefelt was a pioneer of Finnish graphic art, created altar paintings, and made many murals on historical and mythological subjects.

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