Finnish Muses - Ellen Thesleff

It's Wednesday of the third (whole) week of December and that means another Trio! I have some new things coming next year so I'm thinking this is the last Trio for the time being. And what would be a better way to end it than with some Finnish Muses! 

But what are Trios? Trios are posts that I started while I was a member of the Seth Apter Creative Team. I enjoyed making a series of three posts so much, that I decided to continue them at least for a while. If you want to see the older Seth Trios, you can find them under this label (link). The Trio posts usually had a topic, or a product, to which I concentrated, like Izink ICE (link). Or I could challenge myself with limited supplies (link) or use one source of inspiration for three pieces, like I did with "Mothers of Kalevala" (link). In a way they are extended versions of the "Inspired By" posts we used to make together with Marsha Valk. You can explore those posts under this label (link).

Back in Seth Apter team I did some posts with Finnish inspiration - deliberately wanting to share the culture of my homeland. I enjoyed the Kalevala Trio for example tremendously! So, for this month I chose to go Finnish again as Finland celebrates its Independence Day on December 6th. 

There's a term "Golden Age of Finnish Art". The term is generally regarded to point to the realistic and romantic nationalist painters of the late 19th and early 20th century. When naming the leaders of that era the list hardly ever includes any women. So, I wanted to lift some women to the spotlight. Instead of concentrating just to the Golden Era, I chose one female artist from different centuries. One from 19th century, one from 20th and one from 21st. 

How I chose these three? Well, my first guideline was that they were somehow familiar to me or I was interested in them. I chose Ellen Thesleff to be my muse from the 19th century, Outi Heiskanen to represent the 20th century and Mirja Marsch as the muse of the 21st century. I have a picture of Ellen Thesleff on my craft table all the time, I just visited an exhibition of Outi Heiskanen at Ateneum and I have the privilege to own a couple of artworks by Mirja Marsch, an ex co-worker. 

Ellen Thesleff was a Finnish expressionist painter, although she started with symbolism. She's regarded as one of the leading modernists in Finland, although I have to say that I think she's not that well know as she would deserve to be. I think most Finns recognize a Schjerfbeck (referring to Helen Schjerfbeck, a Finnish painter of the same era) when they see one, but not a Thesleff. Ellen was celebrated artist in her own time. In a time when job opportunities for a woman were scarce she knew exactly what she wanted to be and strode towards her goals. Her father was an amateur painter but she started her official art lessons at the age of 15. Aged 22 she moved to Paris to study and a couple years later she traveled to Italy for the first time. Since then she had two home lands - Finland and especially her studio at Murole, Ruovesi and Italy. Here's the link to the Wikipedia page (link).

I really love Schjerfbeck's work but I find Thesleff intriguing. Where as Helen comes across a little aloof and maybe even timid (not sure if that's true), Thesleff is quite the opposite. She's quoted saying "I paint like a god". So, she's very sure of herself and her skills, she wears her head up and has a keen studying look on her eyes. She also wore her hair short in a time when long locks were the norm. 

In the first photo there's a couple of post cards with Ellen's work. The one on the top is a self portrait from 1916 and the one on the bottom a self portrait from 1894-1895. The latter is from her darker period following her father's death. But I didn't use either of these as my main source but instead a striking portrait of her sister, Thyra Elisabeth from 1892. You can see the painting for example here (link) at Helsinki Art Museum site.

The painting I drew inspiration is from Thesleff's symbolism era. The softness of the piece along with the warm colors and the fantastic expression of her model spoke to me. I also loved the hint of a halo beneath her head making the piece resemble iconography art. As you can see from the video and the finished piece, I tried to mimic that detail in my own take. In the video I also try to give an idea how to "cheat" when doing a portrait by using collaging as a means to sketch the subject. 

As I say in the video, I gave Ellen flowing locks and a blue dress. Partly that was because of the contrast for the hair but I'm guessing partly it was also because of the connection to iconography in my mind. When then trimming the bigger piece to fit inside my journal, the composition went off as I didn't want to include just the painted piece of her dress as it showed the line between the collaged and painted too harshly. As the composition now was so bottom heavy, I needed to add something to the top to balance things out and I chose to add a crown there. Partly again this was under the influence of the iconography, but also partly connected to her stance and head-strong attitude. 

Thank you so much for stopping by today! I'm hoping to see you tomorrow with Outi Heiskanen. 

Materials: GelliArts, PaperArtsy, Derwent, Posca, Sinelli

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