V. A. Koskenniemi

Artist(s):Emil Rautala Date:1948 Medium:oil on canvas Dimensions:101.5 x 84 cm

Emil Rautala’s portrait of V. A. Koskenniemi (1885–1962), Professor of Finnish and Comparative Literature, was unveiled on 6 February 1949. The portrait was commissioned by the Turku Finnish University Society to celebrate the sitter’s 60th birthday in 1948. In the same year, Koskenniemi was appointed Academician in the newly established national cultural institution. On the same occasion, Koskenniemi gave up his professor’s duties but continued to live in Turku for the rest of his life. This fierce portrait of a friend was the artist’s last piece, and it presents the subject more as a visionary than as a researcher.

The portrait’s unveiling at the University coincided with the opening of Rautala’s memorial exhibition. The artist’s widow Olga Rautala, their daughter, architecht and artist Margit Rautala-Kaipainen and her husband, artist Unto Kaipainen, were also present. After the event, the portrait was taken to Turku Art Museum and placed in a central location within the memorial exhibition, which was curated by Ragnar Ungern, a fellow artist. The audience present at the unveiling and other museum visitors attended the ceremonial opening, which involved placing a laurel wreath on the base of Eemil Halonen’s bust of Rautala.

Koskenniemi was one of the first seven professors to be appointed to the University in May 1921. The poet held a master’s degree when he was appointed and never even considered pursuing a higher degree; dowager Tekla Järnström, who granted the professorship, required Koskenniemi to be invited for the post. Several experts considered the writer and critic’s merits sufficient for the task even without a doctoral degree. In addition to working at the University, Koskenniemi was one of the principal critics for Uusi Suomi and Valvoja-Aika. A literary circle began to form around him in Turku, in spring 1928, to discuss noteworthy new releases. The impetus for the circle was a Greek night in 1927 at the Professor’s and his spouse’s apartment in the newly built Atrium property at Yliopistonkatu 27. The classically inspired Atrium was designed by Erik Bryggman and located one-and-a-half blocks from the University. Known for his strict right-wing political conviction and admiration for Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, Koskenniemi was one of the most influential cultural figures of his time, promoting the appreciation of classics, such as Goethe. His literary circle also followed the modernist strands.

Koskenniemi served as the University of Turku’s Rector in 1924–1932 after the first Rector, A. H. Virkkunen, passed away. The final wording of the text on the wall of the current Main Building, “From a free people to free science,” was Koskenniemi’s creation.

Painter Emil Rautala (1883–1948) had been a member of the Red Room artist group in Turku and continued to paint portraits of the University’s staff members and supporters even after his move to Helsinki in 1927. He exhibited his works mostly in Turku. Rautala studied both at the Turku Drawing School (1898–1900) and the University of Helsinki Art Room (1904–1905), where his teacher was Eero Järnefelt. He had also begun studies at the Helsinki Drawing School of the Finnish Art Society (1905–1906). During his studies, he sojourned in, for example, Munich (1907–1908) and Paris (1912–1913). Portrait painting was an essential part of his oeuvre, which is characterised by expressive use of the brush and a Post-Impressionist palette with strong shades of blue, green and purple.

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Alhoniemi, Pirkko. “V. A. Koskenniemi – kirjallisen piirinsä primus motor.” Kurkiauran varjo. Esseitä V. A. Koskenniemestä, ed. Touko Siltala, 22–44. Helsinki: WSOY, 1985.

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

Niitemaa, Timo. “V. A. Koskenniemi, rehtorina 1924–1932.” University of Turku, n.d. https://www.utu.fi/fi/yliopisto/historia/v-a-koskenniemi-rehtorina-1924-1932.

“Porträttavtäckning i Turun yliopisto. Emil Rautalas mästerliga porträtt av V. A. Koskenniemi överlämnat.” Åbo Underrättelser, 7 February 1949.

Soiri-Snellman, Helena. Asunto Oy Atrium. Erik Bryggman ja Turun arkkitehtuuri. Turku: As. Oy Atrium, 2010.

Turun Yliopiston Vuosikirja 1948–1951. Turku: University of Turku, 1951.