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Ville Vallgren: Topelius and children, 1909. You may not use this photo for commercial purposes. © Photo: Helsinki Art Museum / Hanna Kukorelli

Topelius and children

Artist Ville Vallgren

Koulupuistikko, Kaartinkaupunki, Helsinki

Zacharias Topelius (1818-1898) was an author, journalist and historian. He had a definitive role in the Finnish national movement, he was one of the central figures to define Finnishness and Finnish culture and what its future would be. The intellectual backdrop of the Golden Era of Finnish culture was largely based on the texts and speeches of Topelius.

Topelius’ memorial was subject to a heated controversy at the end of the 1920s. Gunnar Finne’s work `Fact and Fable’ won the memorial competition arranged by the Society of Swedish Literature in Finland in 1928. The stylized forms of Finne’s work did not please those who hoped that Topelius’ memorial would have the same idealist realism typical of his times and writings. Maila Talvio instigated another memorial competition. The proceeds from a collection organized by Talvio enabled a sculpture Ville Vallgren (1855-1940) had made in 1909 for a grave memorial to be cast in bronze and unveiled in summer 1932 during a large public festival. In the presence of the president of the republic, P.E. Svinhufvud, Finnish and Swedish speaking child-choirs sang, Finnish flags waved, speeches were given and, finally, school children marched past the memorial. The following autumn, Finne’s `Fact and Fable’ was unveiled with much less pomp.

In Vallgren’s memorial Topelius is depicted sitting amidst a group of cheerful children eager to learn from the storyteller. The work, and many of Vallgren’s other works from the beginning of this century, represents relaxed and lyric sculpture, already outdated at the time of its unveiling.

The work belongs to the collections of the Helsinki Art Museum.

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