Heikki Ojansuu

Artist(s):Anna Snellman-Kaila Date:1923 Medium:oil on canvas Dimensions:100 x 80 cm

In spring 1923, Anna Snellman-Kaila donated to the University a posthumously painted portrait of Heikki Ojansuu (1873–1923), Professor of Finnish and Finno-Ugric Languages. She painted from a photograph, which explains the composition’s stiffness. Ojansuu, who was one of the first professors appointed to the University in spring 1921, died of typhoid fever in January 1923, after just two terms. However, during that time, he became the first Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, and his portrait was hung in a central location on the wall of the Chancellor’s room, next to the portrait of J. R. Danielson-Kalmari.

Ojansuu’s controversial claim in 1918 concerning the mother tongue of the Protestant reformer Mikael Agricola – which he now proposed was Finnish instead of the Swedish he had argumented for earlier – was closely linked to the language strife and might have affected E. N. Setälä’s motives for recommending his student for the professorship. Then again, there was only a limited number of candidates to choose from. Ojansuu’s obituary in Satakunnan Kansa, the newspaper of his home region, respected his memory: “Heikki Ojansuu’s appointment as professor at the new Finnish university was met with general satisfaction, because in addition to being academically qualified, he is known as a man fervent in spirit, which is exactly what this Finnish seat of learning needs in its early stages.”

Artist Anna Snellman-Kaila (1884–1962), grandchild of philosopher and statesman J. V. Snellman, worked in Turku in 1922–1930, while her second husband Eino Kaila (1890–1958) served as Professor of Philosophy at the new Finnish-language university. She studied at the Drawing School of Vyborg Art Society in 1898–1900, the Drawing School of the Finnish Art Society in Helsinki in 1900–1903 and privately in Paris. She painted landscapes, urban scenes and still lifes, as well as portraits, using a variety of techniques. She also experimented with graphic art. Her best-received works include her interiors of the Turku Castle; in general, the years she spent in Turku are regarded as her most successful artistic period.

Tutta Palin 2024

“† Heikki Ojansuu.” Satakunnan Kansa, 19 January 1923.

“Taidelahjoitus Turun yliopistolle.” Turunmaa, 5 June 1923.

Willner-Rönnholm, Margareta. Turun koulun naiset – Åboskolans kvinnor – Women of the Turku School, 1920–1950. Turku: Turku Art Museum, 2004.

Willner-Rönnholm, Margareta. “Under traditionens täckmantel. Kvinnliga banbrytare i modernismens konstkulturi Åbo.” Modernia on moneksi. Kuvataiteen, arkkitehtuurin ja taideteollisuuden piirteitä maailmansotien välisen ajan Suomessa, ed. Tutta Palin, 68–83. Taidehistoriallisia tutkimuksia 29. Helsinki: Society for Art History in Finland, 2004.