4535713 bukobject
204372

539. AKSELI GALLEN-KALLELA, "RUSTIC LIFE".

Sign. 1887. Oil on canvas, 94x90 cm.

Droit de suite
No
Provenance

Sold to St. Petersburg from Gallen-Kallelas exhibition i Wyborg 1907. Bought in St. Petersburg to Stockholm in 1918. In the same family since.

Estimate
Final price (incl. buyer's premium)
478 720 EUR

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Exhibitions

At the Paris Salon in 1888. In Viipuri in 1907.

Literature

Onni Okkonen: Gallen-Kallela, Elämä ja Taide, pages 128-131. Picture on page 131.

Related content

AKSELI
GALLEN-KALLELA
1865-1931

HABENT SUA FATA TABULAE – PAINTINGS HAVE A
DESTINY OF THEIR OWN

1907 was a fateful year for the painting “Rustic Life”. In Viipuri
Akseli Gallen-Kallela held a sales exhibition. For many years the
painting had hung in the artist’s parents-in law’s living room at
Alberga Manor and his wife, Mary, had expressed a wish that
the work should not be sold. Axel put a high reserve price on
the painting, in the belief that this would prevent it from being
sold, but this was not the case. Aduli Burjam, whose family
lived at Papula Manor, had married a Mr. Kaestli who was the
son of a Swiss banker. This admirer of Nietzsche wished to
give his wife a gift with a connection to Finland and thus the
work was purchased and shipped off to St. Petersburg despite
its high price. The buyer also wished to make the acquaintance
of the artist, who accepted the invitation and travelled
to St. Petersburg together with Eliel Saarinen. Here the two
gentlemen were treated to a whirl of festivities. For a while
nothing was heard of the painting, but during the 1920s Gallén
received a letter from Stockholm where he was asked to price
the painting. Gallén took this request badly and never sent a
reply. In all probability the loss of the painting, that had been
a cherished memory of his youth, still rankled. After this incident
the painting disappeared from view for several decades.
The only reminder of its existence was a small black and white
photograph. 60 years later, the author of this text decided to
trace “Rustic Life”. Those members of the Kaestli family who
were still living in Europe had never heard of the painting. The
population register in Stockholm could offer no help since the
person, who had contacted the artist in the 1920s, had been
staying in a hotel on Strandvägen at the time. Furthermore
his name happened to be one of the most common names in
Sweden. All efforts to trace the painting were in vain. As a last
recourse, I advertised in a well-known magazine that specialises
in Art and Antiques. A year went by and then, one day,
I got a call from the magazine. “Rustic Life has been found!”.
This news felt like a miracle. A while later I was given the opportunity
to view the painting. Full of anticipation, I entered a
small apartment in central Stockholm that was the home of an
elderly couple. There it hung on the living room wall together
with two big Russian paintings. The father of the then owner
of the painting had been a business man and, in 1918, on one
of his trips to St. Petersburg during the revolution he had purchased
the work. During this trip the man, who was fluent in
Russian, had been arrested by the revolutionary forces on suspicions
of espionage. When he was finally released and able
to return to Sweden, he brought Rustic Life by Gallén and two
Russian paintings with him, but he never told his family how
he had purchased these works of art. When I met the then
owner of this painting, in November 1998, his wife, who was in
her eighties, told me how she had escaped from Russia during
the revolution together with her mother. They had fled across
the frozen waters of the Gulf of Finland, with their valuables
sown into the lining of their fur coats. The lady went on to explain
that when she had met her future husband “She first fell
in love with the painting and then with him”. When Axel Gallén
was 23 years old he gave the following description of how the
painting was created: “While I was living at Ekola, a crofter’s
holding on the shore of Lake Jamajärvi, I made a comprehensive
series of sketches and I painted two paintings of similar
size; Rustic Life and First Lesson. Both works were exhibited
at the Paris Salon in 1888 where they were well received by
members of the most influential circles. Maestro Cormon was
greatly surprised that I hadn’t been awarded the medal which
he had taken for granted that I would receive.”
During the time that the artist spent at Ekola in Keuruu he
found inspiration in the surrounding landscape and in the lives
of its inhabitants. During winter, the hearth and the warmth
that it radiated constituted the focal point of the harsh existence
in the crofter’s holding. Everyday chores like cooking
took place by the fire. This was also where old Eerikki cleaned
his boots. In the background one can see the sparse furnishings
of the cottage; a clock on the wall and next to it a harness,
the bread which was stored beneath the roof ridge. By
the fire, the artist made studies of how the light from the
flames was reflected in the room and on the people in the
room. This was how the young painter created a series of so
called “firelight pictures”. During his sojourn at Ekola, Gallén
was deeply influenced by the writings of J.L. Runeberg. With
slight reservations, one could claim that Gallén found inspiration
in Runeberg’s collection of poems Älgskyttarne, the first
ethnological description in Nordic literature. The main character
is a well-known bear hunter, based on Matti Kitunen from
Keuruu. For his painting Gallén asked Heikki Kinnunen, a local
tracker who had served as his guide on his shooting expeditions,
to be his model. Henna, a young maid at the manor,
is the romantic heroine in Älgskyttarne. Gallén based her on
Johanna, the crofter´s daughter at Ekola. Thus the painting,
which shows us the artist´s interpretation of life in the wilds
of northern Hämee at the end of the 19th century, is full of
literary allusions. Rustic Life is one of the most important ethnological
descriptions in Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s production
during the 19th century.

15.10.2010
Aivi Gallen-Kallela

Contact the cataloguer

Laura Pohjola

Helsinki

Laura Pohjola
Specialist modern and contemporary art, Finnish art

+358-400 464576
laura.pohjola@bukowskis.com

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