Akseli Gallen-Kallela – Self-Portrait, 1897

Who is that fierce-looking man whose eyes look diagonally to the right? The image portrays an artist examining his own reflection in the mirror while drawing it at the same time. His eyes register exactly what we see here. The man has an alert gaze and he seems to move his head a little.

The man depicted in the drawing is 32 year-old Axel Gallén (1865–1931) who less than ten years later adopted a more original Finnish artist name Akseli Gallen-Kallela. The drawing was completed at his studio home Kalela at Ruovesi.

The artist did not use paper and pencil while drawing the image; instead, it emerged on a small, grounded copper plate (10,6 x 8,1 cm). The image appeared on the paper only after it was reproduced by making a print. In graphic art this is also called an impression.

The artist has written his monogram ”AGK” in the lower left corner along with the year of production 1897. The technique is called etching or line etching in which the lines drawn on the grounded plate will be etched by exposing them to acid. The print colour will be spread over the plate after the acid is washed away. Once the excess colour has been removed, the print colour remaining at the etched lines will be transferred on the paper in a press.

Gallén also wanted to learn how to make impressions of his own works. Drawing the image on the plate and making the print were equally important for him, they both were time-consuming and skill requiring work stages. Even though Gallén has made the prints of his works himself, he has not identified them with letters T.p.l.á (in French: Tirée par l’artiste) that would express that the print maker was the same as the artist. Nor was it common in the1890s to indicate how many prints were made with the plate. The indication system was established later.

At Kalela in Ruovesi Gallén had a set of equipment for graphic art. He started with woodcut technique that required no handling of acid. During his trip to London in 1895 the artist acquired a press that was needed for intaglio printing. He had explored the technical and expressional possibilities of graphic art already earlier in Berlin.

Gallen-Kallela is considered a pioneer of Finnish graphic art. In the 1890s the esteem of the graphic art was low and there were no buyers, either. Alongside graphic art Gallén produced other graphic designs, such as exlibrises, posters and illustrations during his career.

Akseli Gallen-Kallela is a central artist name in the Gösta Serlachius Fine Art Foundation’s collections. The collection comprises altogether 180 works of Akseli Gallen-Kallela, which contains 50 pieces of graphic artworks and designs.

Year 2015 marks the anniversary of Akseli Gallen-Kallela. This year, it will be 150 years since the birth of the Master of the Golden Age of Finnish art.

Marjo-Riitta Simpanen
Art historian

Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Self-Portrait, 1897, line etching, Gösta Serlachius Fine Art Foundation. Image: Tomi Aho.
Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Self-Portrait, 1897, line etching, Gösta Serlachius Fine Art Foundation. Image: Tomi Aho.