Hilja Teräskeli

Artist(s):Liisa Tanner Date:1951 Medium:oil on canvas Dimensions:75 x 66 cm

Liisa Tanner’s portrait of Professor Hilja Teräskeli (formerly Träskelin, 1893–1958) was unveiled at the eye clinic of the Turku Provincial Hospital and handed over to the University of Turku on 17 October 1951. The portrait was a farewell gift from colleagues and students to Teräskeli, who had resigned from her professorship due to an illness and moved to Helsinki six months earlier. Teräskeli served as Professor of Ophtalmology at the University of Turku in 1945–1951 and as Vice Dean of the Faculty of Medicine in 1945–1948. She was the first female professor at the University of Turku and the third in Finland, after Alma Söderhjelm, Professor Extraordinarius of General History at Åbo Akademi University, and Laimi Leidenius, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Helsinki. Appointing the third permanent professor of medicine to the University of Turku also meant that the Faculty of Medicine formed its own collegium, which established its independent position.

Tanner’s painting portrays its sitter in a personal way that makes her seem highly present, while the doctor’s coat gives a professional status to the portrait. Part of the expressiveness derives from the fact that the artist has not highlighted the symmetry of the face too much.

Artist Liisa Tanner (1902–1986) was born and raised in Turku. She studied at the Drawing School of Turku Art Society in 1919–1920 and in 1921–1922 and first exhibited her works in 1928. After graduating as an elementary school teacher, she met writer Olavi Paavolainen in 1932 while she was teaching on the Karelian Isthmus. In the mid-1930s, the couple moved to Turku, where Tanner was employed as a teacher. Their home was located in the Turun Sanomat building designed by architect Alvar Aalto. Tanner studied literature alongside her work under the instruction of V. A. Koskenniemi, joined Koskenniemi’s literary circle, and later became one of the founding members of the V. A. Koskenniemi Society. Paavolainen worked as a marketing manager at Kudos Silo Ltd for some time, and his second job was at the Kestilä outfitters, but he moved to Helsinki as soon as in early 1936. In 1943, Tanner and Paavolainen were briefly engaged. Tanner remained in Turku, working as a teacher and a trusted portrait painter who created, for example, a notable number of professor portraits for the University of Turku. The artist’s lifestyle was modern, but her art was not avant-garde.

Tutta Palin 2024

“Muotokuvan paljastus.” Uusi Suomi, 17 October 1951.

N. “Prof. Hilja Teräskelin muotokuvan paljastus.” Helsingin Sanomat, 17 October 1951.

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Vares, Vesa. Turun yliopiston historia, 1. Kansallinen tehtävä 1920–1974. Turku: University of Turku, 2020.

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.