J. R. Danielson-Kalmari

Artist(s):Eero Järnefelt Date:1922 Medium:oil on canvas Dimensions:108 x 86 cm

Eero Järnefelt was a member of the committee established by artists and architects to embellish the premises of the Finnish University of Turku and participated in the art donations by painting a portrait of J. R. Danielson-Kalmari (1853–1933), the University’s first Chancellor (1921–1926), historian and statesman in 1922. It is possible that this task was chosen partly because he had painted a large formal portrait of Danielson-Kalmari for the Häme Student Nation at the University of Helsinki a little less than three decades earlier to excellent reviews. Danielson-Kalmari served as the Student Nation’s inspector in 1886–1903, and the ten years younger artist shared his Fennoman ideas.

The work was met with excellent reviews by critics when it was displayed in the artist’s private exhibition at Galerie Hörhammer in Helsinki in autumn 1922. For example, Edvard Richter, the experienced chief art critic at Helsingin Sanomat, did not spare his praise as he described the exhibition a year later in conjunction with the artist’s 60th birthday: “In particular, the portrait of Danielson-Kalmari, which the artist donated to the Finnish University of Turku, was a marvellous work of art. It was like a symbol of his contemporary art: a representation of the human soul that demonstrates an exceptional ability to judge a person’s character and a crystallised expression of form. In 1896, the young artist had painted a portrait of the very same sitter, which is also among his best male portraits […]”. Even Alex Matson, who preferred modern colourism and for whom the exhibition represented academic dryness, in contrast to other reviewers who praised the exhibition for its “classicism,” recognised the value of this particular piece. As expected, the University hung the portrait on the wall of the Rector’s office. This donation was an encouraging gesture during the new institution’s delicate early stages. The portrait was also included in the artist’s retrospective exhibition at the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts in 1924 (no. 104), which contributed to solidifying the artist’s position in the Finnish art field.

Järnefelt was of noble birth and, despite his firm rootedness in Naturalism, his later portraits exhibit an increased discretion towards his subjects. His portrait of Danielson-Kalmari, who suffered from an ocular disease, is realistic yet respectful, depicting the sitter from a perspective that makes the gaze in the diseased eye almost indistinguishable. The dark and plain background emphasises the quiet dignity of the subject. The artist did not emphasise Danielson-Kalmari’s upright posture as compulsively as in the portrait from the 1890s, although the Chancellor was known as an upright and formal man who grew gradually more conservative. The slightly bent and twisted pose makes the otherwise rather stark portrait warmer. Danielson-Kalmari, member of the Finnish Party (“the Old Finns”) who became more right wing after 1918, continued to record the national history of Finland even after he lost his vision. The scholar, who himself taught in Finnish, sought to emphasise the triumph of Finnish culture and language in a way that had made him closer with the founders of the new university.

Eero Järnefelt (1863–1937), a well-known Naturalist painter of peasant life, portraits and landscapes, achieved the status of a semi-official portrait painter in Finland in the early 20th century and particularly after the Finnish Independence in 1917. He received numerous commissions, particularly from institutions, associations and companies that supported the Finnish cause. Järnefelt never gave up the principles of Naturalism that he had internalised, but he adjusted his expression to make it suit the art of the 20th century by using a slightly broader brush and by adding details to the milieu more sparingly. His portraits are often interpreted as combinations of the rich psychological nuances typical of the Russian portrait tradition, which he learned while studying at the Saint Petersburg Academy of Arts, and the social acuteness typical of French Naturalism.

Tutta Palin 2024

E[dvard]. Richter. “Eero Järnefelt 60-vuotias.” Helsingin Sanomat, 8 November 1923.

L. W. [Ludvig Wennervirta]. “Eero Järnefeltin viime teokset. Näyttely Galerie Hörhammerissa.” Uusi Suomi, 22 October 1922.

Matson, Alex. “Eero Järnefeltin näyttely.” Ultra 6/1922, 84–85.

Professor Eero Järnefelt. Utställning i Kungl. Akademien för de fria konsterna. Stockholm 1924. Stockholm: Swedish Association for Art, 1924.

Tervonen, Jukka. J. R. Danielson-Kalmari. Historiantutkija ja -opettaja. Historiallisia Tutkimuksia 163. Helsinki: Finnish Historical Society, 1991.