A leading figure in modern Finnish painting, Gallen-Kallela first worked at Lake Keitele, north of Helsinki, in summer 1904. This landscape, completed in 1905, is his third and most elaborate depiction of the lake, and he exhibited it in Helsinki that same year. The painting is signed with the Swedish form of the artist's name; in later years he used the Finnish form, as above, by which he is best known today.
Miranda Hinkley (in the Gallery): I’ve come to have a closer look at a painting by the artist Gallen-Kallela, who’s from Finland. It’s called 'Lake Keitele', and I’ve come to look at it because it’s the favourite painting of one Jon Snow. Jon, what is it about this work that you like so much?
Jon Snow: Well, I think in the end it’s one of the most different pictures in the National Gallery for a start – it stands out. It seems to have a natural affinity with Impressionism, Pointillism, but it is in fact… I suppose you’d call it a European Expressionist painting. The thing is the more you look at it, the more you see, which is of course true of so many paintings, but it’s about something very deep and spiritual – there’s something very moody about it, and yet it’s also technically very exciting. I mean, I love the very broad brushstrokes that float across in a very, very determined way to lend the picture its perspective. I think the sky is interesting in the extreme and as is its reflection in the water. But I think above all it’s the looming presence of this island in the right-hand top end of the picture, which is both dark, mysterious, brooding, but somehow enticing too – you’d like to know what goes on there.
Miranda Hinkley: I think the more you look at it, the more you realise that it stands out from everything in the Impressionist room, but you also have a very personal connection to this work, don’t you?
Jon Snow: Well, I do, because I was a trustee from 1999 – the year we bought it – and a very shy one actually. I mean, when you arrive at the National Gallery as a trustee, you feel you’re the most ignorant man in the Gallery, which I still remain. And I’ve just finished being a trustee, and I count this as being something where I really made a contribution, because in the end, we had to decide whether to buy it or not and of course there were people who really were very well equipped to give an account of a picture and there were people who were able to make a very informed judgement about it. I was neither of those things. I merely looked at it as something… would I like to have it in the Gallery? Would it enhance the Gallery? Would it be something that people would enjoy and I thought positively absolutely, and I was the swing vote, so I like to think that I was part of getting it.
It’s interesting because there are very, very few of this guy’s paintings outside Finland, almost none at all and this came up in New York and it was a one-off chance to have it, and I believe that since we’ve had it, it’s been a fantastically well selling postcard, so that indicates that we got it right to some extent. If public joy at the picture is anything to test it by…
Miranda Hinkley (in the studio): Thanks to Jon Snow.