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