Beetles and Other Samples – Gallen-Kallela and Finland

Akseli Gallen-Kallela
Photo © Gallen-Kallelan Museo


A small exhibition at the Helinä Rautavaara Museum told a tale of Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865–1931) and the period of life he lived in Africa. The artist, who had always adored Finnish nature and rural life, found a home for himself and his family in British East Africa. Their life there included painting, drawing and photography, collecting plant and animal samples, and going on the occasional safari.

In the early 1900s it was fashionable for wealthy Europeans to travel to Africa and go on safari. Many artists, who at the time believed that travelling to distant lands would set them free from the oppression of Western civilisation, fell in love with India, Brazil, and various African colonies.

At the end of 1909, Gallen-Kallela left France with his family and settled on the outskirts of Nairobi, where they adapted well to their new life. As a permanent reminder of their African sojourn, they kept a number of paintings, drawings, photographs and collections of various kinds. Some of the ethnographic objects collected by the Gallen-Kallela family were given to the Antell Delegation. An ‘Africa Museum’ was set up at Gallen-Kallela’s studio and residence at Tarvaspää in Espoo, using the objects the family had chosen to keep. Having a museum of his own in his castle-like home was an added cachet for this giant of the Finnish cultural landscape.

The exhibition at the Helinä Rautavaara Museum was part of the 150th Anniversary programme of the Gallen-Kallela Museum.