Juho Rissanen

Harvest, Log driving, The Herring Market

Stained glass




The Australian newspaper, The Sydney Morning Herald knew enough to inform its readers on the 20th February 1932 that the notable Finnish artist, Juho Rissanen (1873–1950) had received a “magnificent commission” to create a series of stained glass windows. They were intended to depict the environment of ordinary Finnish occupations such as fishing, seafaring, forest working and berry picking.

Written by Borghild Bjornstad, apparently of Norwegian roots, the article explained that one of the panels depicted log drivers, floating sawn tree trunks down river. He explained that it showed in “rich colours 14 men’s faces and figures, beautifully and highly favourably drawn”.

kuva © Kuvasto 2016. Photo: © Bank of Finland

Bjornstad described Rissanen as an artist who depicted the working classes compassionately and lovingly and who also had a real sense of enhancement, he was like a poet, presenting his interesting country to the world. He also quoted the French critic Yvanhoé Rambosson (1872–1942): “He is singing a glass anthem to his people.” Behind this comment was the fact that, in addition to being a critic, Rambosson was also a poet and specialist in the arts, his area of expertise being musical instruments.

One of Rissanen’s latter works received a surprising amount of attention before it was even finished. The stained-glass work’s story began in 1928, when the artist, who was living in Paris at the time, sent “the Honoured Gentlemen of the Parliamentary Supervisory Council” a letter in which he proposed that the large window and the two windows either side of it in the Bank’s entrance hall could be decorated with stained glass.

kuva © Kuvasto 2016. Photo: © Bank of Finland

Rissanen had even thought through the themes. One was ‘the beneficial influence of money’. Another ‘the curse of money’. Experience had given Rissanen a close acquaintance with both of these themes. He came from a poor family from the Savo region of eastern Finland and, despite his successful career as an artist, things had not always been sunny. Life in Paris was expensive and paying commissions were not always easy to get.

However, fair winds were blowing for Rissanen, as the young nation was keen to create its own monumental art and the members of the Parliamentary Supervisory Council accepted the artist’s offer. It was decided that he should be paid 400,000 markkaa, but this was to include the technical and material costs as well as the glass firing and leadwork cost. The shame was that the exchange rate between the French franc and the Finnish markka became unfavourable for Rissanen and there was a shortfall in the anticipated profit.

kuva © Kuvasto 2016. Photo: © Bank of Finland

Rissanen had had earlier experience of stained glass painting. He was an enthusiast of the symbolic artist Maurice Denis’s (1870–1943) outlined style and worked on learning the demanding art of stained glass techniques. However, working on this large commission was not without its problems. Rissanen turned to the multi-talented Bruno Tuukkanen to help him with some technical problems and he commandeered his artist colleagues Edwin Lydén and Paavo Leinonen to assist him on some of the more practical work. In spite of all the complications, he was able to deliver the work within the agreed time and the parts were shipped to Finland to be installed in the autumn of 1933.

The Bank of Finland’s stained glass windows are in three sections. From left to right they are “Harvest”, “Log driving” and “The Herring Market”. The middle, log driving section, is the largest of the triptych. This was an understandable solution as Finland’s economy relied on the wood processing industry of which Rissanen’s work describes the earliest stages. The spiral composition of “Log driving” is extremely effective.It would appear to have been very carefully drafted. The Australian article wrote that there were 14 log drivers in the draft and that was how many appeared in the final work.

kuva © Kuvasto 2016. Photo: © Bank of Finland

The Bank wanted the section titled “Harvest” to be the prettiest of the three parts, and the final window is more of a romanticised French image of harvest time. However, the Bank’s wishes were understandable as the central figure, a woman lifting a sheaf of corn is exceptionally unsophisticated, even in comparison with Rissanen’s earlier paintings of peasants.

All three arched stained glass windows are edged in plant-themed bands, decorations. The middle panel, “Log driving”, is decorated with spruce cones and the panel showing Helsinki Market Place, “Herring Market”, is edged in garlands of oak leaves, but the ornamentation around “Harvest” is more difficult to identify. Professor Pekka Niemela and his botanist colleagues suggest that Rissanen has edged it in “loggerheads”, (centaurea dealbata) a type of cornflower that does not grow in Finland. Rissanen has probably thought of the more common blue cornflower (centaurea cyanus) that is common in Finnish rye fields, while the Parisian glass-workers have used the type they are more familiar with. The French influence can also be seen in the beech trees in the background of “Harvest”. In addition, in the foreground of the panel showing the log drivers, at the bottom left-hand there is a European black pine tree which is a commonly-used decorative tree in Parisian parks.

Then again, at the beginning of the 1900s spruce was the unofficial national tree, ‘the home spruce’ was a proverbial saying in use with a double meaning: “If you reach high into a spruce, you fall into a juniper” (roughly interpreted as: ‘If you reach for something that is far too good for you, it is not going to end well’). The great oak is the Tree of Heaven in the Kalevala saga’s creation tale, but the oak leaves are also both military and economic symbols. Some old stock certificates and company logos feature the oak leaf, a deciduous tree found only in Finland’s southern coastal regions.

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