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Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Lake Keitele

Key facts
Full title Lake Keitele
Artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela
Artist dates 1865 - 1931
Date made 1905
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 53 × 66 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit Bought, 1999
Inventory number NG6574
Location Room 43
Collection Main Collection
Lake Keitele
Akseli Gallen-Kallela

This painting shows Lake Keitele in central Finland. The zigzag pattern on the water’s surface is a natural occurrence caused by the interaction of the wind with the lake’s currents, but it is also intended to evoke the wake created by Väinämöinen, the poet-hero of the Finnish saga Kalevala, as he rows across the lake. This epic poem was seen as a founding myth by Finnish nationalists who were seeking autonomy for their country in the late nineteenth century, and reference to it gave Lake Keitele an added political dimension.

Despite the relatively small size of the canvas, Gallen-Kallela creates a feeling of expansive space that brings together meditative stillness and the dynamism of the natural world.

Gallen-Kallela painted three other views of Lake Keitele around 1904–6, all of which show the distinctive zigzag pattern on the water’s surface.

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