An Ecstasy of Beauty

Over the Ocean

Hugo Simberg in America

At the turn of the year 1907–08 artist Hugo Simberg (1873–1917) made a short visit to the United States, the essential part of which was the journey over the Atlantic Ocean. For Simberg, the most important aspect of this trip was the journey itself, rather than the destination. Having heard so much about America from his twin brother, he wanted to see it for himself.

Hugo Simberg’s major creation was the inner decoration of the Tampere Cathedral, completed in early 1906. In October 1907 Simberg held an exhibition of the painting sketches for the church, together with his artist friend Magnus Enckell, who had painted the altarpiece.

When the show closed, it was time to go and see the world. Simberg wrote excitedly already about the first part of the trip, sailing from Hanko, the most southern town in Finland, to Copenhagen, Denmark.

Simberg travelled from Liverpool to New York on board the well-known RMS Lusitania and took photographs of the ship and its passengers. There are not any artworks from the passage but Simberg published the travelogue A Winter Tale in the Atlantic in a Finnish Swedish-language magazine Argus in 1908. He made the return trip across the Atlantic aboard the brand-new RMS Mauretania.

New York gave Simberg his first impression of America – and it was not positive. For Simberg, the city’s array of skyscrapers seemed to suggest American arrogance and boastfulness. That said, he did have positive experiences in New York, like hearing Enrico Caruso sing at the opera (listen to a recording from Madame Butterfly) and seeing French masterpieces at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Simberg also visited Washington (from where he sent this amusing postcard to his twin brother) and Philadelphia and spent Christmas at Niagara Falls. The latter inspired him to do some sketches, from which he later created oil paintings and prints.

Using the slider below, you can compare Simberg's 1907 etching of Niagara Falls with a postcard image from the same year.