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University Drawing School

University Drawing School

1678: A special engraver is recruited to illustrate publications
1707: Instruction in drawing begins
1708: The first master draughtsman is employed
1824: The School moves with the University to Helsinki
1834: A separate drawing studio is situated in a university building on Fabianinkatu
1845: The School hosts Finland’s first art exhibition
1850s: The School is forced to relinquish its teaching room, space given
in the cloakroom of the University Main Building banquet hall
1880: The School Moves to the House of Nobility
1897: The School moves back to enlarged premises on Fabianinkatu
1935–37: The School moves to the Headquarters of the Finnish Literature Society during the enlargement of the University Main Building
1956: The School moves to the top floor of Porthania
1992: The School becomes part of the Faculty of Arts

Photo: Mika Federley
Written by Tomas Sjöblom
Translated by Matthew Billington

Albert Edelfelt – Finnish art for the whole world

21.7.1854, Porvoo – 18.8.1905, Porvoo

Albert Gustaf Aristides Edelfelt was born in July 1854 at the Kiiala estate in the rural municipality of Porvoo. His father, Carl Albert, who was descended from a noble Swedish military family, was the regional architect of Tavastia and later the director-general of the Edification Board. The mother of the family, Alexandra Augusta Brandt was a nationalist thinker and amateur poet closely associated with Johan Ludvig Runeberg.

From the very start, Edelfelt’s parents supported their son’s passion for fine arts, and he had already attended the drawing school of the Finnish Art Society during his studies at the normal lyceum in 1869. In 1871 Edelfelt enrolled at the university to study Latin, Greek and history, moving his drawing studies to the university at the same time. His academic studies progressed lazily, and Edelfelt seems to have mostly concentrated on student nation parties.

Self-portrait by Albert Edelfelt from 1874.

Edelfelt quit his studies at the university after his first year, but nevertheless continued to study at the Drawing School and at the private academy of his teacher Adolf von Becker. Edelfelt’s talent gained wider recognition when his works were exhibited at the annual exhibition of the Finnish Art Society in 1872. He was sent to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp on a state scholarship the following year. He spent only five months there, however, before continuing to the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1874.

In his early work, Edelfelt particularly distinguished himself in the depiction of human emotions in historical paintings. He painted joy and maternal love in the widely appreciated painting Kuningatar Blanka, which was finished in 1877. In contrast, the notable Finnish historical painting Kaarle-herttua herjaa Klaus Flemingin ruumista (1878), which has even been considered the finest of its genre, portrayed hate. Edelfelt also painted fear in the work Poltettu kylä (1879), whose theme was the Club War.

For a painting portraying sorrow, Lapsen ruumissaatto (1880), Edelfelt was the first Finn to be awarded a medal at the Salon de Paris. The painting and prize secured Edelfelt’s international reputation. The same year he was appointed scholar of the Russian Academy of Arts in St Petersburg. Edelfelt became personally acquainted with Tsar Alexander III in 1881, when he was invited to paint the portraits of the royal couple’s children. He was invited to the court of the Tsars a second time in 1896 to paint an official portrait of Tsar Nicholas II for Finland.

Portrait of the children of Tsar Alexander III by Albert Edelfelt (1881).

In the mid-1880s, Edelfelt became famous at the Salon de Paris as a portrait painter. Orders came flying in, and at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1889 he was awarded a gold medal for his Pasteur’s portrait (1885). The same year he was appointed Officier of the French Legion of Honour, and in 1901 Commandeur. Edelfelt was at the height of his portrait career.

Edelfelt returned to nationalist and historical themes in his illustrations of Vänrikki Stoolin tarinat in 1894-1900. Thanks to his international contacts, he also managed to organise a Finnish pavilion at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900.

Sven Dufva, a hero of Johan Ludvig Runeberg's "The Tales of Ensign Stål", depicted by Albert Edelfelt.

Edelfelt also took part in the production of the murals in the University of Helsinki banquet hall with the work Turun akatemian vihkiäiset (1904), which was also unfortunately destroyed in the bombings of 1944. The main painting of the banquet hall was an appropriate ending to his career as a painter of historical themes.

Albert Edelfelt worked hard and fast, and he passed away suddenly from a heart attack in August 1905. He was not an artistic pioneer or experimenter, but he was an exceptionally talented painter who took Finnish art and culture abroad, and introduced Finnish nationalist themes to the visual world.

Reproduction of Albert Edelfelt’s painting Turun Akatemian vihkiäiset by Johannes Gebhard, finished in 1961.

References and additional information

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