Johan Erik Lindh
Portrait of Claes Johan Sacklén
Photo: © Bank of Finland 2016
Better than his reputation
One of the oldest items in the Bank of Finland’s art collection is J.E. Lindh’s portrait of Chief Judge Johan Sacklén (1762–1840), the first Governor of the Bank of Finland. The portrait artist and the sitter, alike, played important roles in Finnish history.
Born in Sweden, journeyman and decorative painter Lindh moved from Stockholm to Finland in 1817 and settled in Kokkola, where his work included the commission to paint the parish church’s altarpiece. It was an important stage in gaining his Master’s accreditation, which was granted to him by the Vaasa Painter’s Guild in 1822.
However, the amount of work on offer from the church was sparse. Before too long, Lindh moved to the newly-established capital city of Helsinki, where he concentrated on painting portraits. There was a steady demand from the nobility and the Grand Duchy’s increasingly wealthy bourgeoisie to have their portraits done. It has been calculated that Lindh, who had the reputation of being a very fast artist, painted about 260 portraits during his career. Amongst his sitters are many significant persons of the times, including Governor General A. A. Thesleff, C. G. Mannerheim, President of the Court of Appeal and N. A. af Ursin, Rector of the University as well as C. L. Engel, famous for designing the centre of Helsinki city.
Lindh’s portraits came in for a lot of criticism during his lifetime for their formulaic and dated, smoothed-over style, out of which the sitter’s image and therefore their individuality emerged. At the time, nobody was producing very individualistic portraits and certainly nobody else would have been able to do one of Sacklén, an exacting judge, whose health wasn’t at its strongest at the time of sitting for the painting. Despite that, Sacklén had been a vital part of the Finnish War, 1808–1809, between Russia and Sweden, which resulted in Finland becoming a Grand Duchy of Russia. As the Russian troops approached the then-capital city of Turku, Sacklén was instrumental in moving the country’s reserves to Stockholm. It was done so daringly that the Russian supreme commander Friedrich Wilhelm von Buxhoevden had to admit that the spoils had slipped away. However, this gambit did not have a negative effect on Sacklén’s successful career path under the new regime. In recognition of his attainments Sacklén was knighted in 1818, taking the new title of Edelsköld.
Later generations have every reason to polish up the industrious portrait painter’s reputation as, in addition to this and other work, Lindh found time to teach as well. In the 1840s he joined Master Painter Lars Källström in setting up the Antique School, for decorative artists, in Helsinki. On top of which he gave private tuition in drawing and oil painting. His students included Werner Holmberg, Magnus von Wright and Ida Silfverberg.