© Kuvasto 2016. Photo: © Bank of Finland
THE DANDY’S SUMMER SETTING
Artist Antti Favén (1882–1948) was known as a witty man of the world and stories about his dandified and profligate ways abound. While painting the portrait of J. K. Paasikivi, Director of the Kansallisipankki (KOP Bank), in Paasikivi’s home, Favén left a thick pile of banknotes on the window sill. As he left, the wind caught the notes and scattered them to ‘the four corners’ of the Director’s property. However, the house’s servants found them and returned them to Paasikivi who, the next time Favén came to paint him, gave the artist a long banker’s lecture in handling money. Amazingly, the artist hadn’t remembered the pile of banknotes at all.
Called a natural genius, Favén was at his best when painting portraits. In the 1920s he became the “court painter” for the White Army and, following the Finnish civil war of 1918, immortalized members of the victorious Whites, from the front line soldiers to the most senior leaders.
The trump card in Favén’s portraits is the skilful characterization of the model and the apparent ease with which the painting techniques have been handled. This is something that can been seen in the group portrait of famous artists, set in the private dining room at Fennia, the day after Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s 50th birthday party. In actual fact Favén painted the work, having rented the dining room for months on end, and the models, from President Ståhlberg down, began the painful, long-winded and time-wasting process of sitting for him. Favén applied elements of impressionist style to this succulently painted work, but that was as far as he took it. He didn’t follow the modernism of the 1900s any further. Favén declared that painting lop-sided coffee pots and cubic apples couldn’t be called the work of a genius.
“Harvest”, a painting of a summer’s working day, is from those times when the artist had given up his earlier colouring and painted in more traditional shades. The landscape depicts the Favén family’s manor house ‘Vanha Hauta’s’ farmland’s, in Kylmäkoski in southern Finland. The artist’s summer atelier was also built on this land. Favén’s father was Oskar Favén, Rector of Helsinki University. His mother was Bertha (née) Hjelt, daughter of a noble family, and his uncle was the short-lived artist Aukusti Uotila (1858–1886).
“Harvest” is a light-filled acclamation of a summer’s task, of work that was perhaps not the main object of the artist’s interest. To later generations the image of Favén that remains is that of a dandy who could take a taxi for a journey of one city block and who, in the countryside, appeared to make a saddled horse his favoured form of transport. His experience of nature has been recorded, in his paintings, as being a jolly but gentrified picnic.