Matti Karppanen: Bullfinches in a Juniper Bush

MAY 2024

In spring 2024, a painting depicting bullfinches was acquired for Serlachius’ art collection. Behind the work there is a story of a mill owner who fell into water through a hole in the ice and a friend who saved his life

Anton Reinhold Salmberg (1871 Turku–1924 Mänttä) worked in the early 1900s as an office manager at the G. A. Serlachius company in Mänttä. Salmberg and Gösta Serlachius (1976–1942), five years his junior, became friends and made hunting and fishing trips together.

It has been said that on one winter trip, Serlachius fell into a hole in the ice, from where Salmberg managed to rescue him and bring him home. Both men fell ill and Salmberg, who himself also was soaked in cold water, developed rheumatic fever.

According to the story, Gösta Serlachius offered his lifeguard a house in Mänttä as a thank you, but despite Serlachius’ many attempts, Salmberg categorically refused this gift. However, Serlachius wanted to somehow reward his savior, and it was finally agreed that Salmberg would receive this Matti Karppanen painting depicting bullfinches that was part of Serlachius’ art collection. 

The work was passed down as inheritance in the Salmberg family and ended up in Sweden. In spring 2024, the family wanted to return the painting to Mänttä, where it came from. Before the painting can be displayed in the exhibition, the museum’s conservator will clean the paint surface and the work will be framed. 

The correspondence between Salmberg and Serlachius is preserved in the museum’s archives. There are hundreds of letters, especially from 1905–1913, when Salmberg was a trustee in Mänttä and took care of the affairs of the Isoniemi estate owned by Gösta Serlachius. Although the correspondence does not confirm the veracity of the ice hole story, the description nevertheless seems quite plausible.

Matti Karppanen (1873–1953) was a painter and taxidermist who painted bird motifs and worked as a pupil and assistant to Ferdinand von Wright. Many may also be familiar with Karppanen’s handprint on cardboard teaching boards in schools. He illustrated paintings 1–20 of the Finnish animal catalogue, which appeared between 1909 and 1914. The collection of the Gösta Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation does not comprise any other works painted by Karppanen. 

Laura Kuurne 
Head of Collections and Exhibitions

Matti Karppanen: Bullfinches in a Juniper Bush, 1903, oil on canvas, 30 x 43 cm, Gösta Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation. Photograph: Sampo Linkoneva.