Ateneum Art Museum celebrates the pioneering role of Finnish women artists | 11 Feb – 27 Mar 2022

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The Modern Woman

Ateneum Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki
11 February – 27 March 2022
The Modern Woman presents works by twelve groundbreaking Finnish women artists and highlights their substantial contribution to 20th century modernism. It brings together over 150 works by artists including Hilda FlodinSigrid SchaumanHelene SchjerfbeckElga Sesemann and Ellen Thesleff, who developed new visual languages and adopted radical approaches to painting and sculpture – outpacing male artists in introducing them to Finland’s cultural realm. Set amid seismic changes to the social, political and cultural landscape of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the exhibiton examines their works from two angles: looking at women as both the creators and the subject of their images.
 
Spanning painting, sculpture, drawing and prints, The Modern Woman reflects the position of women in Finland during the period. One of the first countries to give women the right to vote in 1906, they were also able attend art school, access grants and travel internationally, enabling them to pursue independent careers as artists for the first time. The exhibition embodies the radical spirit that united these women: the dedication to their profession, their drive to seize opportunities for artistic self-development, and their rejection of the lifestyle expected of them.
 
Throughout their lives these women worked internationally in the artistic centres of Europe such as Paris and Florence. This influenced their work and is reflected in the choice of subject matter and techniques. Early paintings by Ellen Thesleff reveal the influence of Impressionism and Expressionism, movements which she encountered upon moving to Paris to study at the Académie Colarossi in 1891. She later formed Finland’s Septem group, which introduced Impressionism to the country. Helene Schjerfbeck’s paintings also demonstrate the wide range of sources available to artists working in the French capital: from Whistler and Japonisme to the latest French fashion magazines, her work blurred the boundary between fine art and popular culture.
Throughout their lives these women worked internationally in the artistic centres of Europe such as Paris and Florence. This influenced their work and is reflected in the choice of subject matter and techniques. Early paintings by Ellen Thesleff reveal the influence of Impressionism and Expressionism, movements which she encountered upon moving to Paris to study at the Académie Colarossi in 1891. She later formed Finland’s Septem group, which introduced Impressionism to the country. Helene Schjerfbeck’s paintings also demonstrate the wide range of sources available to artists working in the French capital: from Whistler and Japonisme to the latest French fashion magazines, her work blurred the boundary between fine art and popular culture.

As the drive for emancipation and demands for equality progressed, the image of a woman began to assume unfamiliar nuances in the artists depictions of themselves and other women. Alongside passive beauty and an erotic charge, the images contained more complex, less idealised and more mundane characteristics. New subjects might be working women or often the artist herself.

The works in The Modern Woman show how despite being forced to contend with expectations and restrictions due to their gender, these women were able to forge independent careers as artists and go on to play a crucial role in the development of art in Finland and beyond.
 
The exhibition is curated by senior researcher at the Ateneum, Anu Utriainen and brings together works by Hilda FlodinSigrid af ForsellesGunvor GrönvikEila HiltunenLea IgnatiusHelmi KuusiLaila PullinenEssi Rendall, Sigrid SchaumanHelene SchjerfbeckElga Sesemann and Ellen Thesleff. An abridged version of the exhibition has been touring the world since 2017, and shown in New York, Tokyo and Copenhagen.
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