The Light Returns to the North (Loosening of the Sun)

Artist(s):Aarre Aaltonen Date:1924 Medium:triptych, marble Dimensions:Central panel 134 x 113 cm. Left Sower, 134 x 57 cm. Right Reaper, 134 x 57 cm.

On 13 March 1922, “Finnish ladies from Turku” – a group of women from intellectual and entrepreneurial families – sent a letter to the University, announcing their wish to donate a marble relief to the University library. Architect Armas Lindgren helped select the artist for the work, and the project was awarded to Aarre Aaltonen, a young local sculptor, on 4 March 1923. The artist seemed to have understood the nature of the commission perfectly. Art critic Ape Rantaniemi interviewed the artist in early 1924, when the work was about to be completed: “[…] ‘I could select the theme freely,’ the artist said and continued: ‘I have been thinking about the theme a lot, but at the beginning, I decided that the central panel should depict something from the national epic Kalevala, which is how I came to choose canto 49 of Kalevala as my main theme. It is the story of how Louhi, the Mistress of Pohjola (the North), returns the sun and the moon to the sky from the stone mountain of Pohjola, where she had captured them.’” The low Art Deco relief uses angular shapes to depict blacksmith Ilmarinen admiring the sun and the moon in the sky while two young men watch him shyly. The related panels bear full-length images of a male sower and a female reaper that bring a peaceful, classicising supplement to the piece. The triptych combines Finnish mythology with classical tradition to create a fitting interpretation of the University’s founding principle. The motifs convey general optimism, and the figures are muscular in a primordial way that emphasises the artwork’s vitalist spirit.

During the interview with Rantaniemi, the left panel was still under consideration: “The other panel will depict a sower, and two sketches have been prepared for its final form; one male figure and one female figure. The related panels should be symbolic of the young people who get back to work when the light returns, so both sexes should probably be represented. The committee prefers this option and suggests the male figure for the sower. The artist, for his part, would suggest having female figures in both side panels for the sake of harmony, noting that the central panel already depicts young men.” The male figure was selected for the final work.

The interviewer considered the unique main motif to be fitting for the location, but challenging because Kalevala was not a common theme in sculpture at the time. The artist himself felt that the hardest part of his first monumental project was handling the 1.5-metre marble plates that were only four centimetres thick. In an interview with illustrator Ilmari Wainio, the modest artist said, with a twinkle in his eye, that he had had nightmares about the panels falling apart.

Before the work was handed over, it was showcased to the public at Turku Art Society’s 20th anniversary exhibition, which opened on 12 April 1924 at Turku Art Museum. At the handover occasion on 18 September 1924, the following representatives of the original ladies’ committee were present: Ida Josefina Nordström, spouse of Commercial Counsellor, who performed the handover and gave a speech, textile artist and designer Katri Warén-Varis, as well as Mrs Ebba Solin, Mrs Salli Ikola and Mrs Anna Mikkola. In addition to the artist and representatives of the University, the event was honoured by the presence of Aleksi Käpy, Chair of the Turku Finnish University Society Board and Justice at a court of appeal, and the speaker’s spouse, Commercial Counsellor J. G. Nordström, co-founder of the Society and member of its central committee and one of the most prominent figures of the Finnish-speaking business world in Turku. Aarre Aaltonen’s marble triptych was the most ambitious art acquisition in the newly established University’s early days, and a major commission even on a national scale. The work was hung above the reception desk, on the back wall of the University library reading room in the Phoenix building.

Inscription down below on the central panel: “From the stone the moon has risen, / From the rock the sun is loosened. / Kalevala 49.378–379. [Translation by W. F. Kirby.] Finnish ladies from Turku donated / these reliefs to the Finnish University of Turku in 1924.”

Sculptor Aarre Aaltonen (1889–1980), from Pöytyä, studied at the Drawing School of Turku Art Society under the instruction of Victor Westerholm and Elias Muukka from 1906 to 1909, made his debut in Turku in 1910 and spent two more years as an apprentice to Emil Wikström in Sääksmäki, which was the place in Finland at the time to learn bronze casting and the process of completing public monument commissions. In 1912–1913 and 1920, he travelled to Italy for further studies at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze, where he had been admitted. Aarre Aaltonen’s mother was the cousin of sculptor Yrjö Liipola and the second cousin of sculptor Wäinö Aaltonen’s mother. In 1921, the artist married painter Margit Aarnio, thereafter known by the name Aarnio-Aaltonen. Aarre Aaltonen’s studio in Turku was located at Yliopistonkatu 37. He worked there until the family moved to the newly established Lallukka Artists’ Home in Helsinki in 1933. His works include motifs from Kalevala, memorial stones, portraits and other figure compositions.

Tutta Palin 2024

A. R–mi [Ape Rantaniemi]. “Käynti kuvanveistäjä Aarre Aaltosen ateljeessa. Turun Suomal. Yliopiston korkokuvien valmistuessa.” Uusi Aura, 30 January 1924.

Kalevala, The Land of Heroes, 2. Compiled by Elias Lönnrot, transl. W. F. Kirby. London: J. M. Dent & Co, 1907. The Project Gutenberg eBook, released 5 July 2010, most recently updated 1 October 2023.

S. I. “Aarre Aaltosen korkokuvaryhmä valmiina. Turun naisten lahja Turun suomalaiselle yliopistolle.” Uusi Aura, 13 April 1924.

“Taidelahjoitus Turun yliopistolle. Turun suomalaisten naisten lahjoittama Aarre Aaltosen korkokuvaveistos luovutettu yliopistolle.” Turunmaa, 19 September 1924.

Teräs, Kari. “Kauppaneuvos Johan Gustaf Nordström (1865–1953).” Suomen talouselämän vaikuttajat online publication, 18 December 2013. Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society.

Teräs, Kari. ”Turkulainen suomenkielinen liikemiesverkosto taloutta ja kulttuuria modernisoimassa.” Moderni Turku 1920- ja 1930-luvuilla – Det moderna Åbo under 1920- och 1930-talen, eds Maija Mäkikalli and Ulrika Grägg, 287–315. Turku: k&h, Cultural History, University of Turku, 2004.

V. H. E. “Turun yliopisto ja naiset.” Uusi Suomi, 12 November 1922.

Wainio, Ilmari. “Nahkurin poika, josta tuli kuvanveistäjä. Taiteilijatarina Aarre Aaltosesta.” Nuori Voima 22–24/1926, 32–37 (672–677).