Unto Koistinen


India ink on paper • 53 x 45 cm




In his self-portrait, Unto Koistinen (1917–1994) has drawn himself dressed as a clown. This is not a question of chance choice. As a theme, circus performers are close to Koistinen’s heart. The Bank of Finland’s collection contains other works under the series name “Harlequin family”.

When painting female figures, Koistinen created decorative, jewel-like works, because of their graceful lines, their colour palette and the patina of their background have been called cameo paintings. They became very successful in their time, whose flattering beauty was secretly complained of in the halls of the art world’s Parnassism movement. They were seen as part of the artist’s well-known gentlemanly, womanising behaviour.

Beyond his quest for beauty, Koistinen was able to parody and make fun of himself. The figure in “Self-portrait” has massive hands and the questioning expression on his face appears to be asking what on earth he is supposed to do with them. Sometimes, almost like an actor, the artist changed roles and dressed his self-portraits in monk’s garb or a duke’s finery.  Koistinen is also known for his lions. His lions are not beasts of prey. In Juha Tanttu’s book “Unto täällä” (“Unto speaking”), he wrote the artist’s explanation: “Why do I paint lions? I AM a lion! They always ask…Ask why the lion painting is called ‘Unto and the women’. Don’t they understand that Unto is the lion.”

Just in case, Koistinen painted a lion that had his face. It resembled the sphinx, but the material used was anything but stone. The artist is easily identified by his large nose and the entire work seems to be a rather melancholy caricature. The clown in “Self-portrait” is rather melancholy, but the caricatured exaggeration doesn’t reach as far as the clown’s face.

Koistinen was a very personal portrait painter. He was commissioned to paint the Bank of Finland’s Governor Klaus Waris’s portrait. The artist’s principle was that the portrait’s subject must be relaxed when modelling in order that the portrait would be successful. We do not know if the Governor did indeed relax while modelling his portrait, when the artist arrived still wearing his hospital gown, having escaped from rehabilitation treatment. In any case, the portrait was a great success.

Artist Unto Koistinen

Artist Unto Koistinen

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