Click on photos to enlarge.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Magnus Enckell

The Resurrection, 1907, Magnus Enckell, Tampere Cathedral altarpiece.                     
Magnus Enckell,
ca. 1900.
Attitudes in the United States regarding homosexuals are changing, too slowly for some, too rapidly for others. Quite apart from "hot" issues such as same-sex marriage and protection of civil rights and non-discrimination, there is a growing tolerance for divergent sexuality and lifestyles. As with all social movements, these elements have found their way into art, sports, motion pictures, literature, advertising, politics, television, humor, even parenting and cooking. It might surprise some Americans, but we're about 150 years behind some countries and societies in this regard. In writing about the lives and times of artists, I don't usually make a point of mentioning their sexuality unless, it has had a major impact upon their art. Although I seldom shrink from including nude figures from an artist's life's work, I tread carefully when such painting veers toward eroticism. It's a fine line I must walk as such art, almost inevitably it seems, flirts with pornography. The general rule I employ has to do with the question: is the work primarily artistic, making an important, valid, social statement, displaying great beauty, or having importance in the overall development of art down through the ages? Is it in good taste? If so, it's art; if not, it's porn. I know, that's a harsh dichotomy lacking gray areas, but it works. Those so-called gray areas are what cause trouble. The work of Finnish artist Magnus Enckell sorely challenges this definition.
Youth before Skull, 1893, Magnus Enckell.
Narkissos, 1896-97,
Magnus Enckell
To start by clearing the air, Magnus Enckell, born in 1870, was homosexual, and quite likely openly so. Those who knew him seemed to care little regarding his sexual orientation. As I said above, I mention that only because his sexuality impacted virtually all his art--young men and boys. His female figures can almost be counted on the fingers of one hand. He was born in Hamina, a small town in eastern Finland, the youngest of six sons. His father was a priest (obviously not of the Catholic variety). In 1889, at the age of nineteen, Enckell began his art studies first in Helsinki at the Drawing School of the Finnish Art Association, only to drop out in favor of private instruction. Then, two years later, Enckell was off to Paris and the famed Academie Julian. There he joined the Symbolist Movement. 
By the Window, 1919, Magnus Enckell
It would be a mistake to suggests that all of Enckell's paintings were imbued with homoerotic overtones. His By the Window (right) from 1919, while depicting a man, is far removed from his Icarus, from 1923, which features the frontal nudity of the title figure and the equally nude figure of his father, Daedalus. Though not really pornographic, it is homoerotic to a degree that makes me uncomfortable.

Enckell flitted about somewhat, first to Brittany, later Paris, then to Milan, Florence, Ravenna, Siena, and Venice, having grown especially fond of the Italian Renaissance (as would seem to be indicated by his itinerary). Narkissos (left) was painted during this period while Youth before a Skull (above) likely dates from his student days in Paris.

Dying Adonis, 1914, Magnus Enckell

The Listeners of Music,
1897, Magnus Enckell
Italy gave Enckell's work a brighter, lighter palette. His Dying Adonis, (above) dating from 1914 is an example of his Post-Impressionist work. Compare it to his Sailor Steering a Boat (below) from earlier, or his 1897 Listeners of Music (left). Moreover, Enckell was the first Finnish artist to reject the longstanding "national" style of Finnish Naturalism. In 1907, Enckell received his most important commission, his only large-scale work, the altarpiece for the cathedral in Tampere, Finland, (top) as seen installed at the bottom. The work is over thirty feet long and more than twelve feet tall. It is principally noted for the fact that two of the figures in Enckell's portrayal of the future resurrection are males holding hands (the final two figures at the rear of the main group). In this country, such a overtly homosexual reference would earn such a religious depiction a storm of controversy and find the painting relegated to some museum frequented by the "evil" liberal left. In Finland, no one seems to mind. Moreover, they're not even nude.

Sailor Steering a Boat, 1897, Magnus Enckell

Magnus Enckell's Resurrection as seen in the Tampere Cathedral.


No comments:

Post a Comment