Lönnrot and Chanters of Kalevala

Artist(s):Akseli Gallen-Kallela Date:1913 Medium:oil on canvas Dimensions:78 x 146 cm

On Kalevala Day, 28 February 1923, Akseli Gallen-Kallela let the Rector know that he intended to donate to the University his relatively large painting of Elias Lönnrot listening to a chanter. The donation is mentioned in the consistory meeting minutes of 2 February 1924. The work was a sketch for a mural, and a slightly more preliminary, smaller version (1912, Finnish National Gallery A III 2154) had already been approved for the University of Helsinki’s Great Hall in April 1913. The artist had first continued sketching the painting, but gave up the commission altogether due to an intense Svecoman polemic. Another possible reason was that, in 1911, he had a disagreement concerning national art policy with Eero Järnefelt, the artist working on another mural for the Hall. His opponents claimed that Gallen-Kallela’s theme had nothing to do with the university, but the University of Helsinki’s Council disagreed with their claims, justifying its opinion through an expert statement: Lönnrot collected information about the past through fieldwork methods that anticipated modern science. Moreover, Finnish-language heritage was thus acknowledged as part of national culture. In 1925, Rector V. A. Koskenniemi stated that the University of Turku should be proud of having a work “by the greatest Finnish painter with such a history behind it” on its auditorium wall.

The painting depicts Lönnrot at dawn, sitting with his note-taking tools, accompanied by an elderly poem chanter and a young man tending to the fire. The diptych’s second panel depicts figures from Kalevala approaching the shore on a boat. The artist began developing the theme in the 1880s and 1890s on various occasions. The University of Turku received the painting with gratitude and hung it in a place of honour, above the podium on the back wall of its own auditorium.

Known for his Fennoman sympathies, Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865–1931) had served as an invited member of the Turku Finnish University Society’s first board since 1917. During his career, he returned repeatedly to themes from Kalevala. Koru-Kalevala, an edition illustrated by Gallen-Kallela, had been published in 1922, a year before the donation.

Tutta Palin 2024

Consistory meeting minutes, 2 February 1924.

Hirn, Yrjö. “Lönnrot ja Gallen-Kallela.” Kalevalaseuran vuosikirja 5, 43–47. Porvoo: WSOY, 1925.

Koskenniemi, V. A. “Kallela-kirja.” Uusi Aura, 1 January 1925.

Okkonen, Onni. A. Gallen-Kallela. Elämä ja taide. Suomen tiedettä n:o. 6. Porvoo: WSOY, 1949.

“Taidelahjoituksia Turun yliopistoille.” Uusi Suomi, 2 March 1923.