Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Portrait of doctor E. W. Lybeck

One of the most recent art acquisitions of Gösta Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation is Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s (1865–1931) large Portrait of Doctor E. W. Lybeck. The sketch-like work in oils has been painted vividly on canvas with brush and palette knife. A special feature of the painting is the model’s introverted, veiled gaze.

Almost the same age, Akseli Gallen-Kallela and Edvard Wilhelm Lybeck (1864–1919) knew each other fairly well. It is not clear whether he painted the artwork in Helsinki or at Lybeck’s house in Elämänmäki, Vilppula. Gallen-Kallela’s studio Kalela at Ruovesi was only a little over 20 kilometres away by boat.

E.W. Lybeck started practising as a doctor in Töölö, Helsinki, in the Kammio nursing home. His mother Sofia Lybeck, a doctor’s widow established the place. Familiarisation with the doctrines of Leo Tolstoy gave him a new direction to his life; he became interested in vitalism and natural approaches to healing. He subsequently sold Kammio and established the Elämänmäki sanatorium amidst the primeval forest of Northern Häme. It specialised in natural therapies.

According to an agreement concluded with the Finnish government, chronically ill, mentally disturbed patients came to Elämänmäki for treatment. In addition, Lybeck’s assistance was sought for a wide variety of ailments, including fatigue, nervousness, various neuroses, rheumatism, chronic pain, depression, joint pain, sleep disorders, indigestion and headaches.

The sanatorium’s busiest time was in the early 1910s, when patients arrived, even from abroad, by rail via Vilppula station or by ship. The most common period of care was from three weeks to a month. Care consisted of a vegetable-based diet, light and air baths, water, clay and electricity treatments, fasting, exercise and movement therapy, massage, meditation and occupational therapy, and also religious healing.

Elämänmäki operated for a total of 13 years between 1904 and 1917. In the final years of his life, Lybeck practised as a doctor at the Kirvu sanatorium on the Karelian Isthmus. His own mental health began to break down, and he died at only 54 years of age by his own hand in 1919.

The sanatorium’s forest setting is nowadays an old-growth forest conservation area. It belongs to the Natura 2000 programme. The large National Romantic style main building is gone. As a result, on the hill stands an Eino Koivisto-designed memorial stone, erected to mark the 100th anniversary of Lybeck’s birth.

E. W. Lybeck is buried in Vilppula cemetery. In 1976, the grave received a Koivisto-designed granite slab, carved with a rugged profile of Lybeck. On the shore by Vilppulakoski rapids, there is an unusual-looking log building, which is not a boathouse but Elämänmäki’s woodshed. People think which is thought to have been designed by Akseli Gallen-Kallela.

Marjo-Riitta Simpanen
Curator, Art Historian

Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Portrait of Doctor E. W. Lybeck, Gösta Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation.
Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Portrait of Doctor E. W. Lybeck, Gösta Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation.