Impressionist & Modern Art

Coming to Auction: A Finnish Masterpiece Combining Natural Beauty with National Pride

New York
'Palokärki (Great Black Woodpecker or Wilderness) ' (1892-94), a masterful work by Finnish artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela, will feature in Sotheby's upcoming Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale on 12 November in New York.
Akseli Gallen-Kallela, PALOKÄRKI (GREAT BLACK WOODPECKER OR WILDERNESS), 1892-94. Estimate $1,800,000 – 2,500,000.

T his November, Finnish artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s Palokärki (Great Black Woodpecker or Wilderness) will come to auction for the first time.

Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Winter 1906

Painted between 1892 and 1894, the work is a fusion of styles from both French Realism and the burgeoning Nordic Landscape movement; and while Gallen-Kallela would continue experimenting with combining these two styles, the present work was the artist’s first successful execution of this synthesis. Across the large canvas, we witness how Gallen-Kallela’s adherence to Realism aligns with his growing interest in the emotional evocation of nature.

Measuring 57 ¼ by 35 ¾ inches, the work captures the starling landscape of Lake Paanajärvi, then in northeastern Finland and now just beyond the Russian border. In the foreground is the stark contrast of a single woodpecker, its deep black plumage accented by a red crown of feathers.

To Gallen-Kallela, the woodpecker symbolized Finnish nationalism, the beauty of the natural world and his defiant resistance to “Russification,” a program of systematic attempts by Russian authorities to culturally assimilate the Finns prior to winning their independence in 1917.

This is the first work by a Finnish artist to be offered in Sotheby’s New York Evening Sale of impressionist & Modern Art, an occasion indicative of a growing interest in Gallen-Kallela’s work among collectors.

To see this 19th-century masterpiece in person, visit Sotheby's public exhibition of works from the Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale, taking place from now until 12 November.

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