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

The East African - - MAGAZINE - Kari Mutu, Spe­cial Cor­re­spon­dent

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.

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