Akseli Gallen-Kallela – Finland’s visionary

Finland * 1865-1931


Akseli Gallen-Kallela is born on 26 April 1865 in Pori, Finland, as Axel Waldemar Gallen, but changes his name in 1907 to a more Finnish-sounding name. His family is Swedish-speaking and his father works as a police chief and lawyer.

At age 11, he is sent to Helsinki to study at the local grammar school, but following his father’s death in 1879, he attends drawing classes at the Finnish Art Society as well as studying privately under Adolf von Becker. In 1884 he moves to Paris to study at the Académie Julian and befriends Finnish painter Albert Edelfelt as well as the Norwegian painter Carl Dörnberger.

He is best known for his illustrations of the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic, and his work helps shape the visual imagery around Finnish national identity. His work on this project starts during his honeymoon following his marriage to Mary Slöör in 1890. He produces illustrations such as the “Aino Myth” as well as several landscapes.

Akseli Gallen-Kallela-Aino Myth

“Aino Myth” by Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1891)

In December 1894 he holds a joint exhibition with Edvard Munch in Berlin, Germany, where he also becomes acquainted with Symbolism. But the real turning point in his work comes in March 1895 when he receives a telegram with the sad news that his daughter Impi Marjatta had died from diphtheria. The news heralds a shift in his work from the romantic to a more aggressive style shown in works such as Joukahainen’s Revenge.

Akseli_Gallen-Kallela-Joukahainen's Revenge-1897

“Joukahainen’s revenge” by Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1897)

He decides to travel more in Europe, developing his artistic skills. In Germany he studies print-making, a skill further developed in London, while in Italy he applies himself to fresco-painting.

His reputation as a leading Finnish artist is consolidated at the Paris World Exhbition of 1900 when he paints the frescoes for the Finnish Pavillion. The project enables him to voice his desire for an independent Finland, free from Russian influence.

He also spends time at Lake Keitele, which he paints several times between 1904-06, and finds inspiration for several other works, such as “Sky” (1904).

Akseli Gallen-Kallela - Sky - 1904

“Sky” by Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1904)

His travels continue and in 1909 he moves to Nairobi, Kenya, where he paints numerous expressionist oil paintings and collects several African artefacts. But his heart belongs to Finland and he returns to his native country in 1911. Between 1911-13 he designs and builds a house and a studio at Tarvaspää, some 10km northwest of Helsinki. Today, the building functions as the Gallen-Kallela Museum, which opened in 1961.

Between December 1923 and May 1926, he spends time in the USA, where he not only exhibits but also visits the Taos art colony in New Mexico to study indigenous American art.

His work on his “Great Kalevala” starts in 1925 but remains unfinished as upon return from a lecture in Copenhagen, Denmark, Akseli Gallen-Kallela falls ill and dies on 7 March 1931 in Stockholm, Sweden.


Mary Cassat – Mothers and children

USA * 1845-1926


Born on 22 May 1845 in Allegheny City, near Pittsburgh (PA), USA, Mary Cassat rates as one of the most important 19th century US artists. She was raised in a comfortable upper-middle-class family and her father was a successful stockbroker while her mother was part of a prosperous banking family. From 1851-55 the family lived in France and Germany, enabling Mary to get a flavour of European arts and culture.

In 1860 she began two years of study at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and five years later, she asked her parents to allow her to continue her artistic training abroad. She moved to Europe to study the works of the great masters of The Netherlands, Italy, Spain and France before settling in Paris, France, in 1874. While she exhibited in the Salon in 1872 and subsequent years, her work was rejected in 1877 and she then devoted herself to creating impressionist works. She exhibited with the Impressionists as the only US artist and her talent was recognised by the likes of Edgar Degas.

Mary Cassat - Sleeping baby 1910

“The Sleeping Baby” – Mary Cassat (1910)

In 1891 there was a shift in her subject matter as she painted increasingly works of mothers and their children, for which she was ultimately known.

In terms of technique, her work combined the light colours and loose brushwork of Impressionism with compositions influenced by European Old Masters as well as Japanese art. Her love of Japanese art was particularly noticeable in paintings such as “The Child’s Bath” (1893).

Mary Cassat - The child's bath - 1893

“The Child’s Bath” – Mary Cassat (1893)

In addition to her artistry as a painter, Mary Cassat was also skilled in colourful wood cuts such as “Morning routine” (1886). Her versatility helped her to establish professional success at a time when very few women were recognised as serious artists.

However, her career as a visual artist came to an end in 1914 due to an eye disease. She died on 14 June 1926 in Mesnil-Théribus, France.

Camille Pissarro – From the rural to the urban

St Thomas, West Indies * 1830-1903

Camille Pissarro was born on 10 July 1830 in St Thomas in the West Indies. One of the key impressionists, his early painting career saw him travel with Danish painter Fritz Melbye to Venezuela and after an odyssey, he settled in Paris. There, he studied at the École des Beaux Arts and at the Académie Suisse, where he became acquainted with Claude Monet and Paul Cézanne. In 1855 he attended the Paris World Exhibition where he saw the work of Camille Corot, who would go  on to have a great influence on Pissarro’s work.

Camille Pissarro-the-gardens-of-l-hermitage-pontoise-1867

Gardens of the Hermitage, Pontoise – Camille Pissarro (1867-69)

Like many successful artists of the day, Camille Pissarro exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1859, but two years later his work was rejected. As a result he made his entry in the alternative Salon des Refusés (Salon of the Rejected) in 1863.

During the 1866-69 he lived in Pontoise with his family and from this time date a number of important landscape paintings, including the “Gardens of the Hermitage, Pontoise” (1867-69). He continued this type of painting when he moved to Louveciennes in 1869.

Camille Pissarro-near-sydenham-hill-looking-towards-lower-norwood-1871

Near Sydenham Hill, Looking towards Lower Norwood – Camille Pissarro (1871)

In 1870-71 he stayed in England where he painted “Near Sydenham Hill, Looking towards Lower Norwood”  (1871) and became increasingly influenced by impressionism, a movement in which he would come to play a key role in his life.

Pissarro continued to develop his work by including new subjects. Encouraged by Cézanne, he started to paint still-life in 1972-73 and possibly his “Self-portrait” of 1873 came about in this way.

Camille Pissarro - Picking Peas oil on canvas Museum - 1893

Picking Peas – Camille Pissarro (1893)

Figures continue to feature in his work but are increasingly pushed to the foreground and take a more prominent role in the overall composition of his painting, as can be seen in works such a “Woman hanging the washing” (1887), “The market in Gisons” (1889) and “Picking Peas” (1893).

As can be seen, his last works bring in the new theme of cities in his landscape painting, particularly of Paris, including “The Louvre and the Seine from Pont Neuf ” (1902).

Camille Pissarro-The-louvre-and-the-seine-from-the-pont-neuf-1902

The Louvre and the Seine from Pont Neuf – Camille Pissarro (1902)

Camille Pissarro died on 13 November 1903 in Paris.

Claude Monet – All about the first impression?

France * 1840-1926


Born on 14 November 1840 in Paris as the son of a Parisian craftsman, Claude Oscar Monet moved with his family to Le Havre in 1845. There he was taught to paint “en plein air”  by Boudin and he made the acquaintance with the Barbizon School while by 1859 he met the painter Pisarro of the Academie Suisse.

Following a two-year stint in military service in Algeria, he returned to Le Havre to take up the paint brush with Boudin and Jongkind and paint coastal landscapes for a while before moving to Paris. In the French capital he got to work in the studio of Charles Gleyre where he met Bazille, Renoir and Sisley and carried on his outdoor painting with them.

Claude Monet-1866-The woman in a green dress

“The woman in a green dress – Claude Monet (1865)

During the Paris Salon in 1865 two of paintings received much attention, including “ The mouth of the Seine” (1865) and he received further recognition with “Camille” or “The woman in a green dress” (1866). In 1870 Monet moved to England where he met up with Pisarro and Daubigny and learnt more about English landscape painting. Following a short period in The Netherlands in 1871, he returned to France and worked with like-minded painters in Argenteuil.

In 1872 he painted “Rising sun impression”, the painting that would be part of the first group exhibition of Monet and his friends and become the basis for the art movement called “Impressionism”. However, by 1880 it became apparent that Monet was leaving pure impressionism through heavier and more muted colours as shown in  “Sun flowers” (1881).

Claude Monet-1872-Rising sun impression

“Rising sun impression” – Claude Monet (1872)

In 1883 he moved to Giverny, where he would remain until his last days. Around this time, art dealer Durand-Ruel held annual exhibitions with Monet’s works, including “Cliff walk at Pourville” (1882).

Monet spent time in London again between 1899-1905, where Waterloo Bridge, Charing Cross and the Houses of Parliament would be some of his favourite places to paint.

Claude Monet-1899-Waterlilies

“Water lilies” – Claude Monet (1899)

In 1899 he also started on his best-known series “Waterlilies”, a theme around which he would continue to paint and are arguably his signature works until his death in Giverny on 6 December 1926.



Fleeing war-torn France

“I must admit the climate is most unusual: the number of wonderful effects I’ve seen in the two months or so that I’ve been looking incessantly at the Thames is unbelievable” – Claude Monet 

Claude_Monet-Houses of Parliament London

Houses of Parliament, London –
Claude Monet

Art is often embedded in history, reflecting and influencing society’s ups and down. As France was devastated during and after the Franco-Prussian war and the Paris Commune, local artists sought refuge across the Channel in the 1870s. There they settled, either temporarily or permanently, forging friendships and experiencing a local life quite different to the one they had left behind.

These artists included the impressionists Claude Monet, Camille Pisarro and several others. To bring to life these connections, the Tate Britain is currently holding “The EY Exhibition: Impressionists in London, French Artists in Exile (1870-1904)”. The exhibition stages the Anglo-French co-operation between French and British artists, patrons and art dealers as well as viewing British society through the eyes of French. Parks, the Thames, regattas and processions are some of the subjects of the works on display. There are views of a foggy 19th century London such as Claude Monet’s “Houses of Parliament, Effect of sunlight in the fog” or Camille Pisarro’s “Fox Hill, Upper Norwood”.

The exhibition is on until 7 May 2017 – see our Diary page for the link.


ca. 1867-1886

Impressionism is arguably the best-known art movement, with its paintings splashed across calendars, mugs, greeting cards and even umbrellas.

The key principle of impressionism is to paint what you think you see rather than what you see.  By incorporating new scientific research into the physics of colour to improve the representation of colour and tone, and applying paint in small touches of pure colour rather than big strokes, the impressionists made a break with traditional painting techniques in Europe. Their love for the outdoors added a further layer to their painting as they sought to catch the fleeting glimpses of light and colour.

The movement was a reaction against the “safe” and “tidied up” approach to landscape painting and instead perceived landscapes as made up of millions of colours creating a specific impression. Its adherents certainly caused a stir but early art criticism was to be proved wrong as impressionism gained momentum.

Impressionism-France-Monet-Water lily pondMoreover, although its cradle stood in France, impressionism spread throughout Europe through contemporary painters such as James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), who decided to cross the Channel into England after exhibiting with Edouard Manet (1832-1883) in the by-now famous “Salon of the Rejected” in Paris.

The rise and development of impressionism in England can currently be seen through the exhibition “Impressionists in England” at the Tate Britain, London, UK.

Meanwhile, impressionism continued its global spread.  Italian painter Giuseppe de Nittis took the style to Italy while in the Nordic countries, Edvard Munch, Auguste Strindberg, Akseli Gallen-Kallela and Helene Schjerbeck used impressionism to develop modernism.

Impressionism-Australia-IMAG2251-250x442Australia’s Tom Roberts (1856-1931) studied art in London and developed an interest in the works of Whistler, particularly the latter’s silvery paintings of the Thames during an exhibition in 1884. Following his return to Melbourne, he passed on Whistler’s new style to contemporaries such as Charles Conder (1868-1909) and Arthur Streeton (1867-1943).

Impressionism also came to Australia via John Russell (1858-1930) who admired the works of Claude Monet (1840-1926) and spent considerable time in France, forging very much his own style.

Muses2Musings took closer look at the works of Australia’s impressionists during the exhition “Australia’s impressionists” at the National Gallery, London, UK.


  • Edouard Manet (France – 1832-1883)
  • Claude Monet (France – 1840-1926)
  • August Renoir (France – 1841-1919)
  • Edgar Degas (France – 1834-1917)
  • Auguste Rodin (France – 1840-1917)
  • Berthe M P Morisot (France – 1841-1895)
  • Guiseppe de Nittis (Italy – 1846-1884)
  • James Abbott McNeill Whistler (USA – 1834-1903)
  • Mary Stevenson Cassatt (USA – 1844-1926)
  • Camille Pissarro (Denmark/French – 1830-1903)
  • Alfred Sisley (UK – 1839-1899)
  • Tom Roberts (Australia – 1856-1931)
  • Charles Conder (Australia – 1868-1909)


Further links on this site