A summer guest in Mänttä 135 years ago


In Mänttä, the summer months are the busiest time of the year. The Art Town’s visual art scene expands each year so that it gradually becomes necessary to stay more than one night. In addition to Serlachius Museums and Mänttä Art Festival, several smaller destinations are active in organizing ambitious exhibitions.

Art is also created locally. International and Finnish artists working in Serlachius Residency do their art and present their projects in residency gallery all year. Artists exhibiting their works at Serlachius Museums usually visit Mänttä several times.

Artist guests are not new sights in Mänttä. Already since mill owner G. A. Serlachius’ time, nationally and internationally important art has been created in the region. Young painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela (back then still Axel Gallén) spend some time in Mänttä in June–July of 1887 painting the portrait of the mill founder. On Midsummer Eve he wrote a letter to his Norwegian artist friend Carl Dørnberger and explained to have been in the process of painting a portrait which must be made as good as one possibly could because good money would be paid for it. Like many other contemporary artists of his time, the young man needed the money to return to Paris to study. Career-wise it was essential to follow the art field of one’s own time, and in the Annual Paris Salon one might also be able to show one’s own works.

For Gallen-Kallela the portrait meant, however, more than a commission made for money. On July 7th he wrote again in a letter to Dørnberger and said that he painted the portrait with love, “con amore”.

The painting represents the tradition of portraiture in which the subject is seen in its own environment. In 1868, G. A. Serlachius established a ground wood mill on Mäntänkoski Rapid and, despite great difficulties, managed to set up a profitable industrial enterprise. In the painting, Serlachius has been depicted making a round in his paper mill. He stands on the factory floor dressed in a brown suit, wearing a calotte on his head and a walking stick in his hand. On the backdrop, a worker with his back turned towards the viewer is depicted working on the paper machine.

The composition of the image and the industrialist’s pose resemble the ancient portraits of princes, with the exception that the rod of authority has been replaced by a walking stick. The worker’s figure on the background is however a reminder of the position of power which inevitably manifested itself at the mill.

G. A. Serlachius and 18-year-old Akseli Gallen-Kallela met for the first time in Samppalinna Restaurant in Turku in 1883. They were accompanied by sculptor Emil Wikström. Not one of them probably could anticipate how far-reaching consequences this meeting had. Mill owner Serlachius became an important patron for Gallen-Kallela.

After Serlachius’ death his nephew Gösta Serlachius followed Gallen-Kallela’s career and acquired a significant collection of his paintings. For the Serlachius art collection, Gallen-Kallela furthermore is the most important artist from the Golden Age of Finnish art included. The collection comprises 190 Gallen-Kallela paintings, the latest of which was acquired in 2017. The Fine Arts Foundation consequently continues on the footsteps of the both Serlachius generations by inviting artist to work and present their art pieces in the locality. 

Laura Kuurne
Head of Collections and Exhibitions

Sources and more information:
Teemu Keskisarja: Vihreän kullan kirous. G. A. Serlachiuksen elämä ja afäärit. [Curse of the Green Gold. Life and business affairs of G. A. Serlachius]. Serlachius-museoiden julkaisuja 1.
www.lahteilla.fi. Akseli Gallen-Kallelan ja Carl Dørnbergerin taiteilijaystävyys ja kirjeenvaihto. .[Artistic friendship and correspondence of Akseli Gallen-Kallela and Carl Dørnberger].

Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Portrait of Gustaf Adolf Serlachius, 1887, oil on canvas. Photo: Yehia Eweis.
Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Portrait of Gustaf Adolf Serlachius, 1887,
oil on canvas. Gösta Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation. Photo: Yehia Eweis.