Lot 27
  • 27

Akseli Gallen-Kallela

90,000 - 120,000 GBP
325,250 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Akseli Gallen-Kallela
  • Sunset over Lake Ruovesi
  • signed GALLEN KALLELA lower right
  • oil on canvas


Hiljalle, Zuholta, 1934 (according to an inscription on the stretcher)
Sale: Bukowskis, Helsinki, 8 April 1990, lot 42
Sale: Hagelstam, Helsinki, 28 April 1996, lot 30
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner

Catalogue Note

Painted in 1915-16, the present work is not only a celebration of the brief nordic summer but of Finnish identity itself. Depicting Lake Ruovesi, where Gallen had his 'wilderness studio', the view evokes the quintessence of the Finnish outback so close to Gallen's heart. As much a cloudscape as a landscape, the painting is an exploration of the contours and colours of the summery cumuli which serve as a sculptural, celestial canopy for the flat lakelands below.

Previously under Swedish rule, Finland became a Grand Duchy of Russia during the Napoleonic Wars in 1809. Ever more beholden to their new masters, for Gallen-Kallela, as for the vast majority of the Finnish people, patriotism and the quest to define their national identity remained a vital force within Finland. It was in the face of increasing tensions with their Imperialist neighbour at the end of the nineteenth century that Gallen-Kallela helped so incisively to give form to Finnish culture, painting the Finnish legends, building his 'wilderness studio' Kalela and transcribing the Finnish landscape into what Janne Gallen-Sirén has aptly described as a 'codex for national identity'.

Unlike other depictions of the Finnish wilderness, in which broken branches or ice and snow are used as symbols of Finland's oppression, the present work exudes an unconditional positivism. Painted two years before Finland gained its independence, just as Gallen-Kallela used the steel grey bars of light criss-crossing Lake Keitele to evoke the wake of the mythical Finnish hero Väinämöinen, so the linear wind patterns on the water in the present work anticipate Finland's imminent political and economic freedom from Russia, and the dragon-like form in the sky the country's simmering urge for power (fig. 1).

Gallen-Kallela painted the present work from the environs of Kalela, a place that held a special significance for him and to which he had only just returned after ten years of absence. He had constructed it in 1894-95 on a rocky promontory overlooking the lake. Inspired by the massive farm houses of Archangel Karelia that he had visited on his honeymoon, he incorporated into its design many of the ancient motifs that he had found on his travels through Karelia, in particular the epic sagas of the Kalevala. It was in Kalela that his wife gave birth to their children Kirsti (1896) and Jorma (1898). And it was there that he worked on some of his most important projects. He produced his first wood-cuts and his first large scale frescoes there, and it was there too that he completed his major oils inspired by the Kalevala: Defending the Sampo, Joukahainen's Revenge, Lemminkaïnen's Mother and Kullervo Cursing.