Lot 11
  • 11

Eero Järnefelt

150,000 - 200,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Eero Järnefelt
  • Sunset over a Lake
  • signed and dated E. Järnefelt. 1894. lower left
  • gouache and gold paint on paper
  • 74 by 47cm., 29 by 18½in


Sale: Sotheby's, London, 27 March 1990, lot 71
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner

Catalogue Note

Breath-taking in its plunging perspective and crepuscular hues, the present work probably presents a view over Lake Pielinen near Koli in eastern Finland, a subject which Järnefelt made his own. In numerous formal aspects the work defies the conventions of western art, pointing instead to the influence of Japanese prints. Notable features are the vertical format, bird’s eye view looking down on the lake and islands, heightened colours, high horizon line, stylised trees along the lower border, and even the gouache medium rather than the more conventional oil on canvas. As demonstrated by the recent touring exhibition in Helsinki, Oslo, and Copenhagen, the form and character of Nordic art of the late nineteenth century bore the indelible imprint of ‘Japanomania’, as each artist approached the new possibilities that Japanese visual culture appeared to offer.

On the other hand the present work could not be more quintessentially Finnish. Dramatic views over Finland's lakes such as Albert Edelfelt’s Kaukola Ridge at Sunset (fig. 1) encouraged the younger generation of artists to look afresh at the Finnish landscape, as they dreamt of their country’s independence from Russia.

Late nineteenth-century Finnish art was strongly informed by nationalist and Symbolist currents. Dominated by Sweden for almost six hundred years, Finland passed under the rule of the Russian Empire in 1809 and gained its independence only in 1917. Social dissatisfaction and disillusionment over Russian rule was widespread, and young artists sought a new pictorial vocabulary to express their Finnish identity.

Born in Vyborg, his father Finnish and mother from the Russian noble Clodt von Jürgensburg family, Järnefelt was brought up speaking Finnish at a time when the Swedish language still carried greater prestige. Born Erik, he Finnicised his name to Eero, just as his fellow artist Axel Gallén later renamed himself Akseli Gallen-Kallela. Steeped in Russian literature and culture, he studied at the St Petersburg academy under his uncle, and later travelled to Italy and Paris with Gallen. Järnefelt's mother Elisabeth, regarded as ‘the mother of Finnish art and culture’ led the so-called ‘Järnefelt school’ of literary salons, which also encompassed contemporary political questions.

Järnefelt first visited Koli in North Karelia in 1892, two years before painting the present work. The leading artistic personalities of Järnefelt’s generation, from Jean Sibelius to Akseli Gallen-Kallela, looked to Karelia as a lost paradise, and an embodiment of the authentic soul of Finland. There Elias Lönnrot had collected much of the oral folklore published as the national epic Kalevala earlier in the century. 1893 saw the first performance of the Karelia Suite by Sibelius, which remains among the composer's most celebrated works. Sibelius was Järnefelt’s brother-in-law through his sister Aino, and the two men were close friends. The journey that the composer and artist undertook to Koli in 1909 inspired Sibelius’ Fourth Symphony, dedicated to Järnefelt.

Two other versions of the present composition are known, also of 1894, one in oil (of 115 by 96cm) and the other in tempera (of 105.5 by 74cm). Both are in private collections.