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Explore / Exhibitions / Exhibitions Archive / Travelling with Women


Pictures from the Collection of the Ateneum Art Museum

Sinebrychoff Art Museum 27.3.–10.8.2014

The exhibition tells about foreign travel of female artists through the works they created abroad. On display will be works of 24 different artists from the collection of the Ateneum Art Museum. The earliest painting is a portrait of Sara Wacklin by Edla Jansson-Blommér from 1846, and the most recent one a landscape from Jerusalem by Anitra Lucander from 1960. There are also works of two foreign female artists who lived and travelled at the end of the 18th century from the collection of the Sinebrychoff Art Museum: Still Life of Fruit by Gertrud Metz and Ulysses Discovering Achilles among Daughters of Lycomedes by Angelica Kauffmann.

Maria Wiik (1853-1928)
In the Church, 1884
Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Museokuva

Why abroad?

The art world was still quite unorganised in Finland in the first part of the 19th century as there was no art training, museums nor art critics. To get training you needed to go abroad and the nearest destination was Stockholm – only few artists would travel to St. Petersburg, the capital of the country. From Stockholm you could continue to Germany via Copenhagen, where popular destinations included Dresden, Düsseldorf and Munich, and towards the end of the century, Berlin. From Germany artists went on to France, Italy or England. In France, in addition to Paris, the artists were drawn to the seaside regions, such as Brittany and Normandy and Southern France. In Italy, the route went to Florence, Rome and Naples via Venice and Milan. In England, London and St. Ives on the south coast attracted the artists.

In the 19th century, the idea of the grand tours of Europe, particularly popular among the British aristocracy in the 18th century, spread to Finland, too, increasing cultural travel. Inspired by them, members of the nobility and the bourgeoisie started making grand tours of the significant artistic centres of Europe. The tours were not just about fun and pleasure, but also about educating and developing yourself. One of the inspirations for this kind of cultural travel was the trip made by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749—1832) to Italy between 1786 and 1788. The book Italian Journey that he published afterwards also served as a guide book. In addition, artists used guide books by foreign publishers, the best known of which were the German Baedeker and the English Murray and Bradshaw.

At the beginning of the 19th century, Rome was the leading city of art in Europe where artists wanted to finish off their training. They were attracted not only by the antique ruins and museums, but also by the temperate climate and different light. In the middle of the century, the most popular place of study was Düsseldorf from where artists gradually moved on to Paris from the 1860s onwards. Paris was the place to be in in the 1880s, but in the following decade artists working there started to develop an interest in the old Italian art that you could see in Venice, Florence and Rome. After the unification of Germany in 1871, Berlin became the country's artistic centre and its decadent atmosphere attracted artists at the turn of the century. Paris, however, retained its leading position long into the 20th century. Artists often spent their winters abroad, returning to Finland for the summer.

A significant development, which contributed to travelling becoming more common among artists, were the new inventions that made travelling easier and quicker at the turn of the 20th century. The railway network expanded, electric and diesel locomotives replaced steam ones, and steam boats were fitted with diesel engines. Later, cars and flying made moving from place to place even quicker. Thanks to these developments, artists started travelling further and to more exotic locations. New countries and cities started to become popular alongside the more traditional destinations, although Paris with its lively art world still attracted artists from all over the world. The contacts of Finnish artists with artistic centres abroad increased particularly in the 1950s.

Ida Silfverberg (1834-1899)
Self-Portrait, 1868
Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Kari Soinio
Elin Danielson-Gambogi (1861-1919)
Self-Portrait, 1900
Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Kari Soinio

Training opportunities of women

At the beginning of the 19th century, art was regarded as a suitable hobby but not a profession for the women of nobility in Sweden and Finland. Families also needed to have money to educate their daughters and have an interest in the arts. For this reason, we know very little of female artists from that time, and even those few that we know of are mainly regarded as amateurs. From the mid-1800s, the artist identity became stronger at the same time as amateur painting declined. Respect for the arts as a career also grew and more daughters of the nobility started entering the profession. Along with training, the number of female artists started to increase considerably from the 1880s onwards.

Most women entering the profession were unmarried, since being an artist was not regarded as a suitable role for a wife or a mother. Only few women continued painting after getting married, because a large flock of children limited their chances of or prevented them from working. Many of those who chose to become artists were inspired by a female role model in the family, somebody who had painted or even become an artist. Rosa Bonheur (1822−1899), the best known French female artist in the 19th century, who was able to make a living from her art, was a role model to many. Still in the early 20th century you needed to have an affluent family background to be able to get into the profession. Although the number of female artists grew as the 20th century progressed, there were still not many independent, full-time women artists in the 1950s.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts was primarily for men until 1864, so before that women needed to take private lessons from male artists. In 1864, a department for women was established in the academy. Only the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg accepted female students in the 19th century. The École des Beaux-Arts in Paris did not accept any foreign students until 1897. In general, official art academies only started opening their doors to female students in the 20th century.
Some female artists were unsure of choosing the career of an artist and also studied in the college of arts and crafts in Stockholm. Arts and crafts provided a better chance of making a living. The crafts schools offered subjects that were deemed suitable for women, such as wood carving, porcelain painting and xylography, illustration of magazines and books. The career of many women was cut short because they went abroad to study too late. Many of the early female artists worked as teachers in girl schools, as only a few of them were able to make a living as an artist, and teaching provided a more secure income.

It was not acceptable for young women to travel abroad alone in the 19th century, so they needed a "chaperone" to escort them. The companion may have been a relative, but female artists also often travelled and lived together. Suitable accommodation was provided by family friends living abroad or boarding houses that had previously accommodated Finns. Besides, Finnish artists often sought the company of other Nordic artists. Interaction was easy, because they were able to communicate in Swedish together. At the turn of the century, the position of female artist started to become more independent.

Amélie Lundahl (1850-1914)
Breton Girl Holding a Jar, 1884
Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen
Ester Helenius (1875-1955)
The Chefs, 1924
Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Antti Kuivalainen

Art training in Finland

When Finnish art world started to get organised in the middle of the 19th century, it was influenced by the art society movement that had started in Germany at the beginning of the century and quickly spread in the Nordic countries. In 1846, the Finnish Art Society was established in Helsinki, and it started its own drawing school two years later. Another drawing school operated in Turku.

The drawing schools of the Art Society accepted women as students from the very beginning, because they did not use completely nude models. Moreover, as the name suggests, the schools focused on teaching drawing. If you wanted to get training in oil painting, you needed to go abroad. Although there were female students in the drawing schools of the Art Society from the very beginning, it was still common in the 1870s that many of them did not complete their training.

A significant development in arts education in Finland took place in 1872 when artist Adolf von Becker established a private art school in Helsinki. It was modelled according to private academies in France that Becker had learned about during his stay in Paris. The Becker academy had a group for women where you could get training in oil painting, too.

The financing of studies was also important when it comes to travelling. The Art Society started giving so-called ducat prizes for artists in 1858. The majority of the prizes went to women during the first five years. The Art Society also awarded different types of scholarships and travel grants. One of the biggest of these was the "Hoving scholarship", established by Victor Hoving, a businessman and patron of arts from Vyborg. The authorities also understood the significance of art in boosting national identity, and the senate started awarding grants in 1863.

Julia Stigzelius-de Cock (1840-1923)
Summer Day in Normandy, 1879
Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Janne Tuominen

Anitra Lucander (1918-2000)
Jhalawar, India, 1959
Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Janne Mäkinen

Further information on the exhibition:
Anne-Maria Pennonen, tel. +358 (0)294 500 272, Anne-Maria.Pennonen(at)
Claudia de Brün, tel. +358 (0)294 500 461, claudia.debrun(at)

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Entry: 10 / 8 euros, children under 18 free of charge
Joint ticket to the exhibitions of Ateneum and Sinebrychoff museums € 18/16

Guided tours: in Finnish, on Saturdays at 14.00; in Swedish, the first Saturday of each month at 13.00
Pre-booked guided tours: Mon–Fri 9–15, tel. 0294 500 500 or bookings(at)

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