Ellen Thesleff – Trombone Angel, 1926


On Ellen Thesleff’s graphic print, the trombone angel is accompanied by a singular shooting star during her flight among the puffy clouds. 

The best-known text referring to the trombone angels is probably the Revelation of John or the Book of Revelation. It tells about the apocalyptic events as well as the future wars and plagues awaiting the human kind. Thesleff’s delicate artwork depicts presumably a Christmas angel because of its buoyant light colours that are neither dramatic nor frightening.

Painter and graphic artist Ellen Thesleff (1869–1954) belongs to the pioneers of modern Finnish graphic art. Her art is timeless, as time and again, the new generations seem to discover her paintings and graphic art.

Thesleff’s first artworks made using intaglio technique were created already in 1897. About ten years later the artist got acquainted with relief colour printing, engraving and woodcut.

The artist did her woodcuts based on free sketches. At first, she sketched the theme with charcoal on birch veneer on which the image was cut with a knife. According to its name, the paper picks up the colour from the raised surface level in relief printing.

In Finland in the 1920’s, when Thesleff created her work The Trombone Angel, the country enjoyed its recently gained independency and strived to develop its graphic art and to reach at least the level of the Nordic countries. Most of the graphic artists of that time were men making black and white intaglio prints. Thesleff’s colourful woodcut production deviated clearly from the mainstream.

Since the demand for graphic art was quite small in the 1920’s, also Thesleff’s print series were small. Often only 25 prints were made of each artwork. A special feature is that the prints of each series have different colours. This is due to the fact that the artist spread all printing colours on the printing plate at one time. This means that each print is in fact unique, a monotype.

The motifs in Ellen Thesleff’s artworks from the 1920’s often refer to dance and music. Also the feet of the trombone angel make swift dancing moves in the air while she puffs out her cheeks like a true trombone player. As the star falls the heavenly messenger clearly blows into her double horn with everything she has got so that all nations surely will receive the information about a child born.

Marjo-Riitta Simpanen
Curator, art historian

Ellen Thesleff, Trombone Angel, 1926
Ellen Thesleff, Trombone Angel, 1926, colour woodcut, Gösta Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation, Photo: