Albert Edelfelt at Helsinki Spring Sale

Albert Edelfelt, "Forest nymph". Estimate: 50 000 - 60 000 €. For sale at Helsinki Spring Sale.

Finnish painter Albert Edelfelt is considered one of the European pioneers of realism and painting en plein air in the late 19th century. Art historians have usually not included his production from the 1890s in overviews on symbolism and art inspired by mythology. However, Edelfelt did produce a number of illustrations that can be described as mythological rather than historical, in terms of both the theme and the way the motif is presented.

In 1890 Edelfelt illustrated André Theuriet’s poem of a fairy for the Figaro Illustrée magazine and experienced Le Nu’s censorship for the first time, due to nudity. “This is madness!” Edelfelt exclaims in a letter to his mother (16 May 1890) and continues: “where a bathing woman who is perceived to be a water nymph, one simply cannot portray her in any other way than naked – and the one I drew only has half a breast visible. The most comical thing about this is that Figaro is being such a prude.”

In 1888 a separate catalogue called Le Nu au salon was published in Paris. The cover of the first catalogue had been banned from street sale and the publishers were punished with a fine. The line between erotica and mythology was constantly under debate among the art audience of Europe, and it was strictly forbidden for book dealers to sell photographs, postcards or books portraying naked figures. In Finland, for example, Edelfelt’s nude paintings from his study years were never displayed in original form. He was forced to paint draperies over genitals, so that no-one, especially his sisters, would be embarrassed.

During the 1890s, perhaps inspired by artists like Anders Zorn and the catalogue Le Nu, Edelfelt produced multiple works with mythological motifs with half-naked women in the nature. These symbolistic works, including The Youth and the Mermaid (1897), Diana (1898) and June (1898), originate from the same period as the Forest Nymph (1898), which is now for sale at Bukowskis.

Literature: B. Hintze 1942–44, catalogue nr. 826. Text: Marina Catani.

"Forest nymph" by Albert Edelfelt will be sold at Bukowskis' online auction Helsinki Spring Sale between May 29 - June 14.

The piece was painted in Helsinki where Edelfelt rented an atelier at Elisabetsgatan 27 E. The family's maid posed as a model and the artist depicted her resembling a forest nymph, with a garland in her hair.

Read more about Helsinki Spring Sale