Akseli Gallen-Kallela


Akseli Gallen-Kallela,  Lake Keitele, 1904. Oil on canvas. Private collection. Image: GKM / Jukka Paavola.

Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865–1931) was a versatile artist, especially known for his Kalevala-themed works. In addition to the national epic, he was interested in depicting Finnish nature and people. His understanding of his homeland came from numerous trips to different parts of the country. He painted peasants in their real surroundings, renewing the art of his time. Gallen-Kallela's landscapes reflect nature in its untouched state with artist painting directly what he saw in front of him.

In his interpretations of Kalevala tales, the artist drew on elements of our folk culture and influences taken from nature. They also reflect his experiments in art, graphics, heraldry and architecture. Gallen-Kallela was interested in the inner world of the human mind, in spirituality, which was also reflected in folk poetry and old myths.

Gallen-Kallela built an image of Finnishness at a time when our country was still a grand duchy under Russian rule. Questions about the specific features of national culture were topical in Finland and in Europe in general. Hopes for independence for our country grew stronger towards the end of the 19th century, until independence was achieved in 1917. Gallen-Kallela developed our culture during a period that has later been called the National Romantic period. The aim was to show how Finns have their own history, culture and language - and their place among the nations of the world.

He was a prolific cosmopolitan artist of his time, studying and working abroad for several periods. In addition to Europe, his artmaking took him as far as the African continent, Kenya and the United States. His international influences and interest in other cultures are reflected in his art. Gallen-Kallela's last, unfinished major work, The Great Kalevala, can be seen as a testament to the artist: it is a synthesis of everything he had learned about Finnish nature, people and culture, combined with elements borrowed from other cultures of the world and referring to the great stories of world history, the myths, shared by mankind.

Conceptio Artis (detail) 1895. Private collection.


Biographical information

Axel Waldemar Gallén was born in 1865 in Pori into a Swedish-speaking family. He died in Stockholm at the age of 65. The artist changed his name to Akseli Gallen-Kallela in 1907.

His family included his wife Mary (1868-1947), children Kirsti (1896-1980) and Jorma (1898-1939), and first daughter Marjatta (1891-1895), who died at the age of four. The family life was mobile: his wife and children travelled with him all over Finland and the world. His more permanent homes were the studio buildings Kalela (1895) and Tarvaspää (1911-1913), designed by Gallen-Kallela.

Gallen-Kallela began his career with realistic folk portraits, from which he moved on to symbolism in the 1890s and on to romantic Kalevala themes and monumental frescoes. In the mid-20th century, especially in connection with his trip to Africa, Gallen-Kallela's works began to embody expressionism and the colourism and colour painting typical of the period.

Gallen-Kallela's famous paintings include Aino Myth, triptych (1891), Ad Astra (1894 and 1907), The Defence of Sampo (1896), Lemminkäinen’s Mother (1897), Kullervo Cursing (1899) and Lake Keitele (1904).  In addition to his paintings, he created frescoes, prints and designs for textiles and furniture. After the Finnish Civil War, Gallen-Kallela worked as an aide-de-camp to Gustav Mannerheim, who had been elected as Regent of Finland, and designed uniforms and decorations for the independent Finnish army. Highlights of Gallen-Kallela's international career included a prominent role in the Finnish Pavilion at the Paris World Exhibition in 1900 and his own section at the Venice Biennale in 1914.


The Hand of Christ (The Palm of Peace), 1897. GKM.

Gallen-Kallela Museum

Designed and built by artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865-1931), the Tarvaspää Studio Castle presents temporary exhibitions of the art and life of Gallen-Kallela and his contemporaries, as well as contemporary art. The museum offers a wide range of activities and events and serves as a centre of information on Akseli Gallen-Kallela.

Welcome to meet Akseli Gallen-Kallela, an artist who is both familiar and unknown!

Coffee & culture

Cafe Zoceria Tarvaspää