The Red Room

Artist(s):Edwin Lydén Date:1908 Medium:ink with white highlights in gouache Dimensions:21 x 33.5 cm

Edwin Lydén’s drawing is one of the two almost identical versions of the same work. The other work belongs to the Suomen Säästöpankki Oy Fine Arts Collection in the Finnish National Gallery. Both of the two works are dated in 1908, and they only differ through the placement of the artist’s own figure in the composition. Judging by the white highlights, both drawings were originally intended for printing.

Named after a room with red wallpaper in restaurant Pinella in Turku, the Red Room artists circle was active in 1905–1915 and held its first joint exhibition in 1909 at the Turku Art Museum. Around 1916, the group moved from Pinella to Café Manninen. In the version held by the University of Turku, the artist stands in the right-hand side of the drawing, hands in his pockets, looking out of the picture. The other members of the core group from left to right are Santeri Salokivi, Emil Rautala, Ragnar Ungern and Ilmari Kaijala. There is a book on the table with the German word “ALSO” on its cover. It is a reference to Friedrich Nietzsche’s main work Also sprach Zarathustra (1883–1885, Engl. Thus Spoke Zarathustra). The book creates an association with radical individualism. The execution of the work resembles the art nouveau style (Jugendstil) of the satirical German magazine Simplicissimus. At this point, the group’s Munich-inspired art was received coldly, but The Red Room has since been recognised as an iconic specimen of modernism in Turku.

The University received the drawing through the will of Kaarlo Jäntere (1885–1957), Professor of History, to be hung in the history seminar room. The work was, however, later transferred to the university library because of its fragility. Since around 1908, Lydén spent summers at the Soininen manor house, which was then part of the rural district surrounding the town of Naantali and owned by Emil Sandelius, Assistant Judge at the Court of Appeal, who would later become Kaarlo Jäntere’s father-in-law. Lydén would paint portraits of his host family until the 1920s, when the manor was transferred to the Jäntere family. In 1914, Lydén built a studio house in National Romantic style in nearby Luikko. Jäntere and Lydén also worked as school teachers in Turku in the 1910s.

Edwin Lydén (1879–1956) studied at the Turku Drawing School of the Finnish Art Society in 1894–1899 and at the Academy of Fine Arts, Munich, in 1899–1906. Lydén was a painter, drawer, illustrator and political caricaturist, and also experimented with graphic art. Open-minded and experimental, he tried out a wide range of styles, from Symbolism and Expressionism to abstraction. Lydén was a central figure in the first generation of the so-called Turku Modernists.

Tutta Palin 2024

Aarras, Raimo. Edwin Lydén. Ed. Aimo Reitala. Taidehistoriallisia tutkimuksia – Konsthistoriska studier 5. Helsinki: Society for Art History in Finland, 1980.

Bergh, Erik and Päivi Hovi, eds. Punainen huone – Rödä rummet. Turku: Turku Art Museum, 1988.

Turun Yliopiston Vuosikirja 1957–1958. Turku: University of Turku, 1958.