Brothers von Wright
6.10.2018 – 3.2.2019
The artist brothers von Wright, Magnus (1805–1868), Wilhelm (1810–1887) and Ferdinand (1822–1906), play an important role in the history of both Finnish art and natural scientific research. The brothers, who grew up at Haminalahti Manor near Kuopio, had since their childhood been interested in the surrounding nature and in observing it. Especially the knowledge the brothers had about birds, thanks to their long-term observation and depicting of them, reached a high level. Their minutely exact bird paintings are still among the best known of all Finnish artworks.
The von Wright brothers are especially known for their numerous works with bird motifs, but Magnus and Ferdinand were also among the most important Finnish landscape painters of their day. Many of the brothers’ paintings show the landscapes of Haminalahti and its surroundings during different times of the year. In the 19th century, depicting wintry landscapes in art was something uncommon, and Magnus von Wright was one of the first to take to the subject. In addition to Haminalahti, Magnus depicted manor and nature landscapes around Finland, as well as Helsinki, where he had settled in 1831.
In the 19th century, the practising of natural science passed through a transitional phase, and the different scientific areas started to differentiate from each other. Even though the von Wright brothers had received little formal education, their detailed descriptions based on exact observations are linked to the rise of field ornithology, based as it is on experience and observations. Especially Wilhelm von Wright’s career had its focus on scientific depiction. The lithography collection Svenska Foglar (Swedish Birds) (1828–1838), born in collaboration between him and Magnus, is considered the ornithological main work of the brothers. Later on, Wilhelm settled on the western coast of Sweden and was responsible for the illustration of the vast work Skandinaviens Fiskar (The Fish of Scandinavia) (1836–1857).
During the brothers’ lifetime, artistic life in Finland was slowly beginning to get organized. Ferdinand von Wright was one of the first Finnish artists who made a living out of their art making. Especially during the final phase of his career, Ferdinand painted numerous commission works, in which he depicted especially small birds and grouse. At the end of the 19th century, Ferdinand’s bird paintings were already being considered old-fashioned, but on the other hand he was honoured for the sake of his long career as an old master, and many of the young artists at the turn of the century visited him at Haminalahti.
The exhibition presents, through different themes, works by the von Wright brothers spanning the whole of theses long and productive careers. Also many works belonging to private collections are shown, many of which have only seldom been shown publicly. The exhibition has been produced by the Ateneum Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery, and curated by Anne-Maria Pennonen.