The exhibition explores the story of Tyko Sallinen (1879–1955), a pioneer in Finnish painting and expressionism. Consisting of 50 works, the show focuses on Sallinen’s most important period, the 1910s. The exhibition also includes works by the artist’s first wife, Helmi Vartiainen, and by their daughters Taju and Eva.

The thematic focuses of the show are portraits, landscapes and genre paintings. Helmi Vartiainen was Sallinen’s muse, but their relationship was very dualistic, as evidenced by Sallinen’s famous and controversial portraits of his wife, whom he called Mirri. Many of Sallinen’s other portraits, such as Saaren Anni and Dwarf, were also scandalous in their time, seen as being coarse and excessively candid. His landscapes, on the other hand, with their stunning colours and powerful moods, represent the apogee of his expressionist period. Sallinen’s genre paintings combine fanatic religiosity with earthly amusements.

Tyko Sallinen was a modernist pioneer whose expressionist works had a profound impact on Finnish art in the 1910s.

Sallinen and the other likeminded artists in his circle introduced fresh ideas into Finnish art, in spite of the opposition and ridicule of the older generation of artists.

“As a person, Sallinen was both a victim and a monster. He had had a difficult childhood, but he made the life of his first wife and their daughters even more difficult. As an artist, Sallinen was a rebel, waging a war in which the enemies were Finnish-speaking proletarian artists and traditionalists from the intelligentsia. That war changed the face of the Finnish art world profoundly. Sallinen’s art spawned several ‘Sallinen-strifes’ and left no one indifferent. As if in celebration of Finnish independence, he painted the canvases Devil’s Dance, The Religious Fanatics and The Barn Dance. The people in the pictures look like they have been lifted straight out of the Finnish nightmare of the age,” says Tuula Karjalainen, curator of the show.

The exhibition is part of a series called HAM’s roots. The series presents research in Finnish art history. The series is founded on the Bäcksbacka Collection, which forms the core of the collection at HAM.