Poplar Alley and Other Works from the Emil Aaltonen Collection
Emil Aaltonen (1869–1949), a successful shoe manufacturer from Tampere, built a significant art collection between 1910s and 1940s. The collection is comprised of 19th and early 20th century Finnish art and older European pieces. Aaltonen’s favourite artists included Albert Edelfelt and the Von Wright brothers.
Aaltonen built his collection in Tampere at the same time when Frithjof Tikanoja and Karl Hedman were putting together their own collections in Vaasa. Aaltonen and Hedman even competed for the same artworks on a few occasions. It was close that Werner Holmberg’s Poplar Alley (1857) could have become a part of Hedman’s collection.
In the beginning of 1930s Emil Aaltonen bought Pyynikinlinna, a grand, two-storey stone building designed by Jarl Eklund. The spacious halls of his new home offered a worthy environment for the artworks and the collection got the opportunity to grow. However, the collection was not meant only to decorate his own home. Like many of his contemporaries, Aaltonen believed in the civilising and educating qualities of art. The collection forms a thorough overview of the Finnish and European art history. Today the building hosts Emil Aaltonen Museum, the co-producer of the exhibition.
Many themes that were important to Aaltonen are present in the collection. The fennoman movement encouraged him to acquire works that portrayed Finnish nature or traditional life and landscapes of the countryside. He was also drawn to depictions of people. These two themes come together in Hugo Simberg’s Sheep Girl (1913), in a touching portrayal of family’s 12-year-old maidservant standing at the barn door with a lamb in her arms.
Religion was also important to Aaltonen and the collection includes several works with religious subject matter. The exhibition displays depictions of the Madonna from 14th to 17th century.
The exhibition includes artworks from the following artists: Nina Ahlstedt, Hennes Autere, David Beck, Gunnar Berndtson, Francois Bonnet, Fanny Churberg, Carl Johan Danielson, Elin Danielsson Gambogi, Albert Edelfelt, Robert Wilhelm Ekman, Gabriel Enberg, Antti Favén, Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Francesco da Santa Croce, Barbieri Giovanni Francesco Guercino, Pekka Halonen, Werner Holmberg, Louis Jean François Lagrenée, Alexander Lauréus, Michiel Janszoon van Mierevelt, Hjalmar Munsterhjelm, Helene Schjerfbeck, Hugo Simberg, Venny Soldan-Brofeldt, Johannes Takanen, Woldemar Toppelius, Ezio Trapassi, Dora Wahlroos, Pietro della Vecchia, Eugene Verboechoven, Victor Westerholm, Maria Wiik, Philips Wouwerman, Ferdinand von Wright, Magnus von Wright and Viktoria Åberg.
Visiting the Collector
The photo exhibition on the third floor of Tikanoja Art Museum tells about Vaasa’s nearly uninterrupted chain of collectors, which has had a great significance to the town’s cultural life. How have the collections that now reside in museums looked like when they were a part of the interior of a private home? What kind of town has collectors’ Vaasa been like and where have they crossed paths? In addition to each other, the collectors are also juxtaposed with other Finnish collectors, like Emil Aaltonen from Tampere.
The main roles in the exhibition belongs to Karl Hedman (1864-1931) and Frithjof Tikanoja (1877–1964). Hedman was a Vaasa-born physician and an avid collector of fine art and antiquities. In 1890s he joined the board of Ostrobothnia’s Historical Museum Association and had a significant impact on the operating of the museum. He bequeathed his collections to the Hedman Foundation he had himself established. They are still an integral part of the Ostrobothnian Museum’s collections. Frithjof Tikanoja founded the wholesale firm Lassila & Tikanoja in 1905 with his business partner. His success in the commercial world enabled him to build an art collection, which included both Finnish and international masterpieces. In 1951 Tikanoja donated his collection, as well as his home, to Vaasa municipality.
In addition to Hedman and Tikanoja, also three other collectors from Vaasa are included in the exhibition. Herman F. Antell (1847–1893), who was born in Vaasa, is well known for his large donation to the National Museum of Finland. Simo Kuntsi (1913–1984) made a successful career in service of the Vaasa Steam Mill Corporation and put together an important collection of Finnish and international modern art between 1950s and 1980s. Dentist Lars Swanljung (b. 1944) bought his first artwork in 1988 and has since then acquired a significant collection of Finnish and Nordic contemporary art.