In the early years of the 20th century, Finnish painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela painted four nearly identical paintings of Lake Keitele, Finland. The paintings have become a symbol of Finland’s unspoilt natural beauty and are now on display in the National Gallery in London, UK, along with a few of his other works.
While his friend Jean Sibelius represented Finland in the musical world, Akseli Gallen-Kallela played a key role in defining the country’s visual identity following Finland’s independence from Russia in 1917. But more than a decade before independence, his vision of his country of birth was already apparent. Through his paintings of the country’s landscapes such as “Lake Keitele” and “White Roses, Konginkangos” (1906) and earlier through his participation in the illustrations of the Kavala epic, the collection of poems that make up the foundational myth of Finland, he forged his vision of Finland.
The first of the Lake Keitele paintings on display in the National Gallery was painted in 1904 and it reflects the lake as the refuge from an unsettled period for the artist. Following a bout of malaria contracted in Spain, he returned to Finland to recuperate at Konginkangos, on the shores of Lake Keitele. There he painted his vision of Finland through works such as “The Sauna Girl” (1904), “Mary Gallen on the Lakeshore at Lintula” (1904) and “The Den of the Lynx” (1908), reflecting his love for the rural landscapes that made up his country of birth. “Lake Keitele” he painted in 1904, and twice in 1905, and again in 1906, returning to the same motif every time, making subtle changes each time. The tranquillity of the pine forests, the eternity of the snow-capped mountains and the ripples in the lake surface all represent Finland as the land of a thousand lakes and natural beauty.