The Great Black Woodpecker, 1892-94
Akseli Gallen-Kallela
Finnish, 1865-1931
Oil on canvas, 145 x 90 cm
Private Collection

The landscape in the painting is from Lake Paanajärvi, which used to lie in the municipality of Kuusamo in northern Finland but is now on the Russian side of the border. The great black woodpecker was a symbol of loneliness and freedom for the artist. He himself described the red splash on the bird's head as "the cry of an individual's life in the silence of the wilderness". In addition to Japanese influences, the things that are particularly interesting in this painting, and especially the gouache version that is considered the original, are the synthetist elements that were beginning to emerge in Gallen-Kallela's work. He repeatedly felt the desire to seek out unspoiled natural settings to cleanse himself of impurities, to find artistic inspiration and above all to find a sense of freedom. The same longing for originality and pure experiences had taken Paul Gauguin to Tahiti and the painters of the Pont-Aven school to Brittany only a few years earlier.


This exhibition has been organized by the Nordic National Galleries