The von Wright brothers and the FInnish national identity

The von Wright brothers and the FInnish national identity

Even during their lifetime the von Wright brothers, Magnus, Ferdinand and Wilhelm, were seen as part of the elite among painters of the Nordic landscape. The Finnish nature in their paintings; the forests, lakes and especially birds were an important part of building the new Finnish national identity. The brothers depicted the Finnish landscape and details of nature in a completely new way, even before the masters of the golden age of Finnish art.

The brothers also worked with other projects of importance to the shaping of the national identity, such as Zacharias Topelius’ “Finland framstäldt i teckningar” (Finland in pictures) which Magnus von Wright illustrated. In his illustrations Magnus presents us with a Finland of tall mountains, majestic waterfalls, idyllic churches and estates, images meant to evoke a sense of wonder and affinity with the nation.

Ferdinand von Wright was one of the first Finnish artists to make a living off his art. At the age of fifteen he was already doing scientific illustrations for publishers in Sweden, and in Finland he was often commissioned to do oil paintings. Ferdinand is the most famous of the brothers, and is especially known for “The Fighting Capercaillies” (1886) and “An Eagle-Owl Seizes a Hare” (1860). All three studied painting abroad, mainly in Sweden, as there was no place to study art in Finland at that time. The most important source of inspiration and practice was, however, the Finnish nature. The brothers were introduced to nature and the forest early on through their father and his keen interest in hunting, and this is evident in the intimate understanding of the landscape and the anatomical detail in the rendering of animals.

The painting “Eagle” for sale in the current auction is a wonderful example of Ferdinand von Wright’s skill in depicting birds realistically and anatomically without forgetting about the realism and atmosphere of the background in the picture. The eagle in the painting is looking out at us from a delicately snowy, early winter landscape. Ferdinand was one of the first Finnish painters to paint the snowy winter landscapes – these symphonies in white were known in European artistic circles as particularly challenging. In this painting the snow is merely a light dusting, reflecting the light of the sky and lending a sense of quiet to the majestic landscape.

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