An Ecstasy of Beauty

From Finland to the World

Foreign travel has often been part of artistic education: training at academies abroad, seeing art in museums and galleries, and absorbing new influences. Some artists go abroad for long periods – or for good – while others make short trips as tourists.

Finnish artists have proven to be eager travellers, their most common destinations being within Europe, especially France and Italy. But they have travelled farther, too, to Africa, Asia and the United States. Although travel may not visibly impact every artist’s work, the experience of travel is often significant in artists’ lives.

How lovely it was to get abroad just now.

Artist Hugo Simberg in a letter to his sister Blenda Simberg, London, 27 November 1907. Hugo Simberg Archive, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

19th century European colonialism opened up paths to Africa and Asia for many artist travellers: faraway regions were no longer ‘the great unknown’ and the presence of European powers made it easier to travel and settle in foreign lands.

Although Finland was not a colonial power (it belonged to Russia until 1917), Finnish artists were not free from colonialist attitudes towards native peoples. So how did Finnish artists see the world far from their home country?