NOBA Nordic Baltic contemporary art platform

The exhibition features variations by the visual artist and author Hannu Väisänen (born 1951) of Nils Schillmark’s painting Strawberry Girl (1782). The work at the Ateneum made an indelible impression on the artist as a child. The model for the painting was a girl from a noble family, Ulrika Charlotta Armfelt. When creating the series of works, Väisänen studied the lives of both Schillmark and Armfelt.

Hannu Väisänen has been working on his Schillmark variations series for the last three years. The roots of the works, however, date back to Väisänen’s childhood more than fifty years ago. This was when the artist first encountered Strawberry Girl during a folk-dancing trip from Oulu to Helsinki. Schillmark’s works and their Gustavian light became familiar to Väisänen later, when he was a student at the school of the Fine Arts Academy of Finland, which was housed at the Ateneum at the time.

The works of Nils Schillmark (1745–1804) fascinate Hannu Väisänen for a number of reasons. The works are examples of the evolution of Swedish-Finnish visual art and the international currents that reached the distant North in this period. Väisänen is also interested in the personal history of the rosy-cheeked Strawberry Girl, Ulrika Charlotta Armfelt (1771–1835), which was everything but rosy. Researching the backgrounds of Schillmark and Armfelt, he has touched upon, for example, the 18th-century construction of croft houses, the early-19th-century idea of marriage, the etymology of the word ‘konterfeijari’, a portraitist, and the weaving technique used for a birch-bark strawberry basket.

Hannu Väisänen’s variations have a connection to music: many composers of classical music, such as Bach, Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, have also created their own variations of seemingly simple themes. Väisänen’s paintings are based on the idea of the variation, as derived from music: the subtitles of the works could be tempo markings, such as, “lively”, “gravely”, “broadly” and “in a singing style”.

In addition to paintings, the exhibition features 18 fragments of prose written by Väisänen. In these texts, Väisänen describes his feelings when looking at Schillmark’s works, as he pictures, for example, the lucky and unlucky turns in Armfelt’s life. The text fragments explore the potential of prose to express things that could not be presented by painting.

The exhibition also features Nils Schillmark’s paintings Strawberry Girl (1782) and Still Life with a Punch Bowl (1795–1797).

Gallery name: Ateneum

Address: Kaivokatu 2, Helsinki

Opening hours: Tue, Fri 10:00 - 18:00, Wed-Thu 10:00 - 20:00, Sat-Sun 10:00 - 17:00

Open: 18.05.2021 - 08.08.2021