FINN CAME TO KENYA, AND PAINTED
RENOWN: While in Kenya, Gallen-kallela painted 150 oil paintings, and took about 300 photographs. These, along with other pieces, were exhibited around Europe and the US
Akseli Gallen-kallela is one of Finland’s most famous artists from the last century. He specialised in romanticism, painting from local folklore and mythology.
His golden period happened far away from home, in Kenya — where he lived with his family during colonial times.
As part of their centenary independence celebrations on December 6, the Finnish embassy, together with the Gallen-kallela Museum, decided to tell his story in Kenya. An exhibition titled Gallen-kallela in Kenya will be on at the Nairobi National Museum until December 15.
Gallen-kallela was born in 1865 to a Swedish-speaking family in western Finland. At the age of 16, he left school to pursue art studies at the Finnish Art Society and afterwards trained in Paris for five years.
After finishing his training, Gallenkallela’s works were exhibited at some of Europe’s top events, and he travelled extensively. In his early 40s, he wanted to reinvent his techniques away from European circles.
By this time, he had changed his name from Axel to Akseli.
Tuija Wahlroos, director of the Gallen-kallela Museum, explains: “He was interested in promoting Finnish culture. A number of people changed their names around 19051907.” Kallela was the name of his first log house and studio, which he added to his surname.
Gallen-kallela was considering travelling to the Far East, South America or Madagascar when, in 1906, he met an artist from Reunion Island who told him about Africa. By June 1909, the Gallen-kallela family were on a ship headed for British East Africa. From diaries written by Gallen-kallela’s wife, Mary, and their daughter Kirsti, historians have pieced together their life in Kenya.