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Dive into Finnish Modernism: Tyko Sallinen and Tove Jansson exhibitions in Helsinki Art Museum

Tyko Sallinen, Leppiä keväällä, Alder Trees in the spring, 1911, Courtesy of HAM, photo Hanna Riikonen.

With the current exhibitions focusing on the historic works of Tyko Sallinen and Tove Jansson, The Helsinki Art Museum HAM draws attention to modern Finnish art. Both exhibitions opened in January 27, 2017. Sallinen’s exhibition will run until the Fall of this year, and Tove Jansson’s frescos will remain on a permanent display in the museum.

The exhibition of Tyko Sallinen (1879–1955), explores works of a Finnish modernist pioneer in painting who is also a representative of expressionism in art. The exhibition consists of 50 works from the artist’s most important period, the 1910s. Tyko Sallinen’s expressionist works had a meaningful impact on Finnish art in the beginning of the 20th century. He and some other like-minded artists introduced new ideas into the Finnish art field, as their approach met open opposition and critique from the older generations of artists.

Sallinen was painting portraits of people, which became a signature marker of his often personal and intimate works. These one person and group portraits were also considered scandalous in their time because of their expressionist and emotive approach to people. Yet, many of his landscapes create a similar sense of strong moodiness. The landscapes imply that the role of nature was close to the artist’s thinking. The brushwork across different canvases come out with delicate movement, composing trees and horizons with earthy tones. The works bring forth viewer’s personal approach and feeling to the surroundings. Sallinen’s landscape compositions are both classic and reflective, confirming that human mind wishes to connect with its nature with intuitive touch and reflection. Simple blue and green hues of the two landscapes (pictured) convey messages, being poetic with a strong stance.

Tyko Sallinen, Tuulinen huhtikuun päivä, Windy April day, 1914, courtesy of HAM, photo Hanna Riikonen.

Tyko Sallinen, Tuulinen huhtikuun päivä, Windy April day, 1914. photo HAM Hanna Riikonen.

The other Finnish modernist artist receiving the exhibition in the HAM Art Museum is Tove Jansson (1914–2001). She is famously perceived as a creator, writer, visual artist and illustrator of the Moomin books. With a substantial global recognition, the Moomin characters are now more popular that ever around the world. It is no wonder that Tove Jansson’s visual compositions are among the most loved works in the HAM collection. The art museum has dedicated some of its galleries to an exhibition celebrating the artist’s entire life and works. These include also her less well known frescos, which she originally created on site for several public institutions. Tove Jansson stands out as an impressive woman with a long career as an artist and influential thinker. She was a skilled painter, writer of many genres, a comics artist and illustrator with a humorous larger than life approach, and a script writer. The exhibition shows the history of words and pictures bringing forth her richly illustrated stories.

Tove Jansson and Niilo Suihko paint the fresco Juhlat maalla, Party in the country, at the City Hall Restaurant.

Tove Jansson and Niilo Suihko paint the fresco Juhlat maalla, Party in the country, at the Helsinki City Hall Restaurant, 1947.

Among the exhibition works are Jansson’s frescos titled Juhlat kaupungissaParty in the City and Juhlat maalla, Party in the Country (the latter pictured above);  and sketches of murals which the artist made for the Aurora Children’s Hospital (LeikkiPlay I-III; Play II illustrated below) in Helsinki. The Play I-III series was created in 1955-57 for the walls of the staircases in the Aurora Hospital, and it features several Moomin characters running up the staircases. The hospital is now closed, but during the years of its operation, 1 million children were able to enjoy the art.

The Kaupunginkellari restaurant, known as Helsinki City Hall Restaurant, opened in 1947 to serve as a canteen for the people working in the City Hall, and as a venue for official functions. Tove Jansson painted the frescos Party in the City and Party in the Country during the same year for the restaurant. With these colorful works, the artist wished to express a sentiment of the joy of life, which was important for the country after its experiences and losses in the World War II. Jansson’s frescos were added to the restaurant’s interior, and were accompanied by the group of reliefs designed by Michael Schilkin, as well as pictures etched on windows by Yrjö RosolaThe HAM has also added lamps into Tove Jansson’s exhibition of frescos. They are the same lighting fixtures that were used in the restaurant. Their designer is Paavo Tynell (1890–1973), who made lighting designs for numerous public interiors.

From architectural and design point of view, Helsinki City Hall Restaurant represented a remarkable example of Finnish modernism of its day. This was a time in the Finnish art history, when modernism in art was highly approaching different genres of artistry and design; bringing art, design and architecture in closer contact and communication with each other. The art and architecture union made peoples’ everyday life happier and more colorful, creating experiences for multiple senses.

Tove Jansson, Leikki, Play II, 1955, courtesy of Moomin CharactersOy Ltd ™. photo HAM Hanna Kukorelli.

Tove Jansson, Leikki, Play II, 1955, courtesy of Moomin CharactersOy Ltd ™. photo HAM Hanna Kukorelli.

***

HAM, The Helsinki Art Museum, concentrates on art collections, which belong to the people of Helsinki. The collection includes over 9,000 works of art, and almost half of the works are on display in parks, streets, offices, health centres, schools and city libraries.

Tyko Sallinen’s exhibition also shows works from artist’s first wife, Helmi Vartiainen, and by their daughters Taju and Eva.

Tove Jansson in HAM.

Tove Jansson’s Moomin stories: https://www.moomin.com/en/history/

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