Saturday, 14 June 2014

A sculptor's studio

When returning from my sister’s last Sunday, we stopped at Visavuori, the museum of Emil Wikström, Finland’s first and foremost sculptor of the national romanticism era of the late 19th and early 20th century.

The time of art nouveau and the arts & crafts movement produced some amazing private buildings also by us. The castle-like studio dominates Visavuori. It was designed by the artist himself, of stone and brick probably to ensure that the catastrophe he met with his first home and studio on this site would never be repeated. The first wooden building was wiped out in a fire also destroying many of Wikström’s original pieces of art.

The new studio was completed in 1903. Furthermore, it was topped up with an extension in 1912. The ground-floor space that used to be a bronze foundry now houses a summer café. From the café entrance you climb up the stairs to the actual studio which includes two spacious ateliers full of Wikström’s sculptures.

The studio is equipped with everything an artist might have wished for in the early 20th century and not just that. It even holds spaces related to Wikström’s leisure-time activities, such as an observatory for studying stars and a darkroom for developing photographs. He was also interested in gardening and playing the organ so the extension incorporated a conservatory and a loft for the organ his brother had built. There is also a nice little nest for some rest and relaxation up on the gallery.

The Visavuori museum consists of Wikström’s studio, his home and the pavilion of his grandson Kari Suomalainen who was by far the most celebrated Finnish political cartoonist of the 20th century, and of all time for that matter. Kari’s pavilion now stands where the greenhouse used to be.

Visavuori is located on a picturesque rocky cape by Lake Vanaja outside the village of Sääksmäki in Valkeakoski some 130 km north of Helsinki. It is such a comprehensive and impressive work of art that the residence deserves a post of its own (here).

Emil Wikström was born 150 years ago in Turku. He came from a poor family but luckily his talents in wood carving were noted and he was sponsored to study art. He first studied at the Finnish Art Association’s drawing school in Turku and Helsinki, and later in the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna and in Académie Julian in Paris. The best-known and most beloved of his sculptures are the four huge lantern bearers (Lyhdynkantajat) guarding the main entrance to the Helsinki Central Railway Station. Wikström died in 1942 at the age of 78 in Helsinki. It was said that separation from Visavuori was even harder for him than departure from life.

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