In 1916, Finnish artists Alvar Cawén, Marcus Collin, Gabriel Engberg, Juho Mäkelä, Juho Rissanen and Tyko Sallinen founded an unnamed exhibiting group. The group held an exhibition in November 1917 – at a time when a general strike was descending into violence on the streets of Helsinki. Sallinen, Rissanen and Cawén were photographed at the opening of their exhibition at Salon Strindberg looking particularly downhearted.
Photo: Private collection.
During the course of the exhibition, the group was expanded to include nine young modernist artists: Ilmari Aalto, Wäinö Aaltonen, Mikko Carlstedt, Ragnar Ekelund, Viljo Kojo, Anton Lindforss, Alex Matson, Eero Nelimarkka and Antti Vanninen. At the same time, the group was named simply the November Group to mark the date of its founding.
Between 1918 and 1924, the November Group held five exhibitions in Helsinki and had their own section at an exhibition of Finnish art held in Copenhagen in 1919. By the early 1920s, the November Group was leading the way in Finnish art. Despite being labelled over the years as an expressionist and Finnish nationalist art group, it did not represent any single style or have any declared goals. Instead, the November Group became a synonym for the dark and angry art of the time, even though its art could also express sensitive moods and employ brighter colours.
“The November Group represented a multifaceted group of forward-thinking modernists that were brought together by years of friendship and a shared admiration for modern European art, especially that of Paul Cézanne. Labelling them as nationalist-minded expressionists is a generalisation; for example, it is hard to find any feeling of expressionism in the analytical and geometrical landscapes of Ragnar Ekelund. They also do not appear to be particularly nationalistic,” says Max Fritze, curator of the new exhibition.
Ragnar Ekelund: View with a Bridge, 1922. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Janne Mäkinen. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum.
The art created by the members of the November Group reflects a time that was defined by the Finnish Civil War, years of economic hardship and food shortages. The dark colours, barren landscapes torn by autumn storms and introverted portraits speak of the anxious undercurrent of their art. The distinctly gloomy nature of much of their art was also inspired by the world-weariness of role models such as Edvard Munch (1863–1944) and Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890).
“The harsh Nordic climate too was seen as influencing factor, and their gloominess was considered characteristic of Finns, honest and even empowering. Even though the transitional period to Finnish independence was marked by unrest, the artists themselves mostly avoided direct political statements. Even the Civil War was touched upon only in a roundabout way – for example, in the way Marcus Collin portrayed beggars crippled by the war in some of his street scenes,” Max Fritze says.
Alex Matson: Autumnal Shore Landscape, 1917. Photo: Matias Uusikylä. Signe and Ane Gyllenberg Foundation.
From revolutionaries to national role models
Few would have referred to the members of the November Group as national role models before the exhibition of Finnish art held in Copenhagen in 1919. As this exhibition marked Finland’s artistic debut in Europe as an independent nation, it raised expectations for uniquely Finnish art. The portrayals of regular Finns painted by Collin and Sallinen were most successful at meeting these expectations. Their honest and unflattering way of portraying both the nature and people of Finland offered a new way of interpreting the Finnish identity; instead of elevating them, the emphasis was now on authenticity.
Emboldened by the international reaction to the November Group, patriotic art critics gradually began labelling them as national role models. In doing so, their international influences were overlooked and their art seem instead as part of the historical development of Finnish art alongside medieval church paintings and Finnish rugs.
The new exhibition at Villa Gyllenberg presents art from 1916 to 1926 by the following artists: Wäinö Aaltonen, Ilmari Aalto, Mikko Carlstedt, Alvar Cawén, Marcus Collin, Ragnar Ekelund, Viljo Kojo, Anton Lindforss, Alex Matson, Juho Mäkelä, Eero Nelimarkka and Tyko Sallinen. In addition, the exhibition includes works by special guests of the November Group, including Jalmari Ruokokoski and Einar Ilmoni.
Media contacts: Pia Mouazan, Project Manager, Pink Eminence, tel 044 799 1180, pia(at)pinkeminence.fi
Other enquiries: Lotta Nylund, Chief Curator, Villa Gyllenbeg, tfn 0405 761 753, lotta.nylund(at)gyllenbergs.fi
Photos: https://pinkeminence.filecamp.com (username: [email protected], password: IVI9QmhO)
Wäinö Aaltonen – Known and Unknown, 11.4.–14.10.2018
November Group, 3.11.2018–24.2.2019
Tickets:Adults 10 €Pensioners and students 8 €
Combined ticket with Didrichsen Art Museum 18 €
Free admission with the Museum Card and for children under the age of 18.
Two-for-one with Hbl bonus card.
Address:Villa Gyllenberg, Kuusisaarenpolku 11, 00340 Helsinkitel. +358 9 481 333 (during opening hours), +358 9 647 390 (office)