Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Pekka Halonen at the Ateneum Art Museum

In August, I had to go to Helsinki and took a couple of hours to visit the Ateneum Art Museum. The great exhibition of the moment (7 March to 24 August) was about Pekka Halonen.

Pekka Halonen (1865 -1933) was born into a Finnish-speaking family in Lapinlahti, northern Savo. He studied at the Finnish Art Society drawing school of Helsinki from 1886 to 1890. In 1890, he won a travel bursary to study in Paris. He went at the Académie Julian. In 1893, he became a private student of Gauguin.
Pekka Halonen: Self-Portrait, 1906. Ateneum

The exhibition, curated by Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, covers 40 years of Halonen’s career through almost 300 works.

It is interesting to see the evolution of the painter’s style. Early works are good but academic. His portraits remained more conventional that the rest of his paintings. His works brighten after his Parisian studies and nn the 1910s, he made an incursion into Colourism. He was also influenced by Gauguin and Symbolism (driving his art to clear outlines and simpler shapes).

Halonen is a painter of nature and the exhibition displays an interesting series of waterfalls. His winter landscapes are really unique. The snow on the trees gives the impression of living creatures, with very organic forms. Some of these paintings (there was a room full of them) seem almost abstract. The snow landscapes from his colourist period (around 1910) are uplifting: the same organic exuberance found in earlier winter landscapes is complemented by clear colours. Snow glows and is enriched with blue and purple shadows against pale orange or pink lights.

He was also influenced by Japanese painting with the tall and narrow kakemono shape. Several paintings use tall canvases with a high placement of the horizon for dramatic effect. This is something I want to try.
On art, Halonen said: “Art should not affect the raw nerves like a scouring brush. Rather, it should give peace. This is the only way I have understood art, ever since my youth. I have never painted for anyone but myself. The quest for peace and harmony in art has, in a manner of speaking, become part of my religion.”

Related information

Page on the exhibition on the web site of the Ateneum Museum.

The Finnish National Gallery Collection web site has photograph of 74 paintings by Halonen.
Ateneum Art Museum
Kaivokatu 2, FI-00100 Helsinki
Info: +358 (0)9 1733 6401

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