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Exhibition with Symbolist masters opens at Ateneum

Titled “52 Souls”, the show exhibits Symbolist paintings from the likes of Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet. In addition to international masters, the Finnish National Gallery’s latest offering also features pieces by domestic artists.

Vincent van Gogh: The Sower (1888)
Vincent van Gogh: The Sower (1888) Image: Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

Opening on Friday, 52 Souls features Symbolist works painted between 1880 and 1910. The exhibition particularly focuses on landscape painting. Other international artists with works on show include Edvard Munch, Piet Mondrian, and Wassily Kandinsky and James McNeill Whistler.

Väinö Blomstedt, Albert Edelfelt, Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Hugo Simberg and Ellen Thesleff represent Finnish Symbolist art in the show, which features works by 52 artists in total – hence the exhibition title.

Inner realities

Symbolism was an influential trend in European art in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Not a style in itself, Symbolism was more of an attitude, where artists went beyond external realities to depict the inner world.

“What is special about Symbolism is how it freed artists from painting the mundane world and allowed them to picture the imagination and inner landscapes,” Ateneum curator Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff explains.

Symbolism developed in a period where scientific advances changed artists’ notions about what art should depict.

“Photography became common. Psychology established itself as a science. The subconscious, dreams – all of this was discussed a lot. Of course this was reflected in the art. It was not enough for art to just represent the real world anymore,” von Bonsdorff muses.

The exhibition is staged in collaboration with the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the National Galleries of Scotland. The show has already been displayed in Amsterdam and in Edinburgh. 52 Souls runs at Ateneum Art Museum until 17 February next year.

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