Albert Edelfelt – Finnish Soldiers
Albert Edelfelt, Finnish Soldiers in the War of 1808–1809, 1892
In 1892 Albert Edelfelt painted Finnish Soldiers in the War of 1808–1809, one of his key works, and one of the best known paintings in Finnish art history. Finnish Soldiers in the War of 1808–1809 is a history painting depicting brave Finnish soldiers marching in a wintry landscape. As a result of the Russo-Swedish war, Finland was separated from the Swedish kingdom. Subsequently Russian empire annexed Finland as an autonomous grand duchy.
Albert Edelfelt was born in 1854. That means he had no experience of the war personally, however he had knowledge of the subject. As a boy he heard stories about the Finnish soldiers and their heroic deeds. Later, as an artist, he understood what a powerful subject the Finnish war offered to the history painting. Edelfelt approached this historical event like a scholar studying meticulously uniforms and other significant details. He wanted to create a feeling of authenticity to his work.
In the late 1890es, the interpretation of the Edelfelt’s painting radically changed as the relation between Finnish grand duchy and Russian empire became more complex. Russia practiced repression policy against Finland, and in this political context Edelfelt’s painting was seen in a new, patriotic light. Quite on the contrary to the historical facts, the solders were not marching for the King of Sweden, but to defend Finland’s autonomous position.
Mill owner Gösta Serlachius purchased Finnish Soldiers in the War of 1808 – 1809 in 1928. We do not know, what he may have thought about the painting’s historical or political content. However, it is clear that he liked Edelfelt’s painting a lot. The very same artwork appears on the background of the portrait of Gösta Serlachius that a Swedish artist Bror Börjeson painted in 1936. If you have a chance to take a closer look to the portrait you can see those marching soldiers.