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Article culturel dédié au peintre finnois Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865 – 1931), trop peu connu en Europe méridionale, à l’occasion d’une exposition qui lui est consacrée au Musée d’Orsay (7 février – 6 mai 2012)…

Considéré comme l’un des artistes les plus emblématiques du génie finlandais au tournant des XIXe et XXe siècle, Akseli Gallen-Kallela n’a jamais fait l’objet d’une exposition monographique en France. Ses liens avec Paris sont cependant étroits. Il fut élève de l’Académie Julian dans les années 1880, triompha à l’Exposition universelle de 1900 avec les fresques du pavillon finlandais sur des thèmes tirés de l’épopée du Kalevala, exposa de nouveau à Paris en 1908 avant de s’embarquer pour l’Afrique d’où il ramena une série flamboyante de peintures et aquarelles.

C’est de cette brillante carrière, dans laquelle s’imbriquent naturalisme, néoromantisme, symbolisme, expressionnisme – et qui accorde une place aux arts décoratifs -, que rend compte l’exposition. Elle rassemble des oeuvres, provenant de prestigieuses institutions finlandaises et de collections privées, qui constituent les manifestes d’un art trop longtemps réduit à l’expression d’un sentiment national.

Akseli Gallen-Kallela started out as a realist, but his career as an artist entails not only surprising versatility and broad interests but also sudden changes in style at various stages of his life. In the 1890s the realism of the early years gave way to the distinct and forceful syntheticist style of his mature stage, as expressed in his paintings of Kalevala themes and frescoes from the turn of the century. In the 20th century Gallen-Kallela was involved with expressionism, experiments with the « pure palette », stylized illustrations to a major published version of the Kalevala epic, the baroque spirit of the frescoes of the National Museum of Finland, and in his last years a return to the realism of his youth.

One of the highlights of Gallen-Kallela’s career was the World’s Fair of 1900 in Paris, where Finland had its own pavilion. Gallen-Kallela made a significant contribution to the exposition. He painted the ceiling frescoes of the central dome of the pavilion with Kalevala themes, in addition to laying the foundation of Finnish Design by designing the furniture and textiles of the pavilion’s Iris Room. Gallen-Kallela also exhibited paintings and works of graphics, and was awarded gold and silver medals and received a great deal of publicity and invitations to exhibit in various parts of the world.

Gallen-Kallela’s life was marked by many changes of domicile and a great many trips abroad. In the early 1890s he designed and built his first combined studio and home at Kalela in Ruovesi, where his children Kirsti and Jorma were born. Already at the turn of the century, the family went abroad, first to Europe and later to Africa. In 1909-1910 the Gallen-Kallelas lived in British East Africa (present-day Kenya). During this trip Gallen-Kallela painted some 150 expressionist oil paintings, whose modern character demonstrate the artist’s great ability of renewal. He also gathered considerable collections of ethnographic and zoological material. In the 1920s, Gallen-Kallela lived in Chicago and New Mexico for three years. It was in the United States that he created his studies for illustrations to the « Great Kalevala », his final and unfinished major undertaking.

Akseli Gallen-Kallela was an individualistic artist, a bold explorer and a cosmopolitan, for whom the fate of his native country was a matter of deep concern.

« A great artist will never grow old if he is honest and serious in what he does. In contrast with this an orientation or style will not matter much – when things are viewed from a perspective of decades or centuries. It is not important how things were said, but what the artist had to say. » (Annikki Toikka-Karvonen)

source : http://www.gallen-kallela.fi

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