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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

Eero Järnefelt – from Savonian landscapes to portraits

8.11.1863, Vyborg – 15.11.1937, Helsinki

Erik Nikolai Järnefelt was born in Vyborg in November 1863 to a wealthy family and a world of opportunity. His parents were the senator and governor lieutenant August Alexander Järnefelt and Baroness Elisabeth Clodt von Jürgensburg. A circle of artists formed around the mother of the family, including figures like Minna Canth, Juhani Aho and Jean Sibelius. The young Järnefelt was surrounded by artistic geniuses of various fields from an early age.

Järnefelt graduated from Helsingin suomalainen alkeisopisto in 1881. He planned to become a schoolteacher, but due to opposition from his father he instead began to study fine arts. Järnefelt first studied art at the drawing school of the Finnish Art Society in 1874 and 1878, but it was only during his time in St Petersburg, in the years 1883–86, that his art began to mature.

While studying in Paris in 1886–91, he became interested in naturalist art and in 1888 finished the paintings Ranskalainen viinikapakka and Savolaisvene.

The painting "Savolaisvene" by Eero Järnefelt from 1888.

Both of Järnefelt’s parents were Fennomans. The young artist was also fascinated by the nationalist movement, and at the beginning of the 1890s nationalist art and Karelianism became his principle themes. Järnefelt first worked under a Finnish pseudonym, Eero Rauta, and later as Eero Järnefelt.

Järnefelt discovered his ‘true Finland’ in Savonia, depicting its landscapes in works such as Heinäkuun päivä (1891), Raatajat rahanalaiset, also known as Kaski, (1893) and Isäntä ja rengit (1893). Of these works, Raatajat rahanalaiset in particular became a flagship of Finnish nationalist art. In addition to these larger works, Järnefelt also painted smaller nature-themed pieces and landscapes, of which many became symbols of nationalist politics.

Eero Järnefelt depicts Savonians slash-and-burning in his painting Raatajat rahanalaiset.

In the 1890s Järnefelt also became one of Finland’s most notable portrait painters. He painted portraits both of central cultural figures, such as Sibelius and Aho, and more intimate portraits of his family. One of Järnefelt’s most famous family portraits is Poikani, which was painted in Italy and finished in 1897.

Järnefelt moved to the shore of Lake Tuusala with his family in 1901. Several other artists had gathered in the area as well, among them Järnefelt’s good friend and brother-in-law Sibelius. The following year Järnefelt was appointed drawing teacher at the University Drawing School, and he worked there for over twenty-five years, until 1928. Naturalistic depictions of common people and the theme of Savonia began gradually to disappear from his work. He concentrated more and more on painting the landscape and animals around Lake Tuusala, as well as his family.

In addition to landscapes, portraits and nationalist themes, Eero Järnefelt also painted church art. The photo is of the Raahe church altarpiece by Järnefelt.

By the turn of the 20th century, Järnefelt had secured his position as one of Finland’s leading visual artists, and he was commissioned to paint more and more portraits of important figures. Among other works, portraits of C. G. E. Mannerheim from 1922 and 1933 are products of his hand. He also produced paintings for the banquet hall of the University, such as the paintings Aurora-seura (1916) and Flora-juhla (1920), which were unfortunately destroyed in the bombings of Helsinki in 1944.

In honour of his works and work performed for the University, Järnefelt was awarded an honorary professorship in 1912 and an honorary PhD in 1923. He was also invited to be a member of both the Finnish (1922) and Swedish (1935) Fine Art Academies. Eero Järnefelt passed away in 1937 as one of Finland’s most respected artists.

Eero Järnefelt. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

References and additional information

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