The great loneliness – Napoleon
© Kuvasto 2016. Photo: © Bank of Finland
EUROPE’S GHOSTLY ANIMAL
Napoleon’s pose in Juhani Linnovaara’s (b. 1934) screen print is a strange one. Unlike his pose in countless other official portraits where he has pushed his right hand inside his coat, here both of Napoleon’s hands are behind his back. In fact, the position of his hand remains such a familiar one that it is the natural one to adopt if wanting to imitate the emperor or his imperial power.
Despite its comic element, Linnovaara’s work is penetrating. The megalomaniacal conqueror of Europe has been transformed into a ghostly animal, whose eyes stare not out of a head, but out of the top of a two-cornered (bicorne) hat. The headpiece and the person have melted into non-human form, whose coattails are spattered with the blood from the map of Europe, spread out before him. The continent has later learnt to fear these “ghost animals”. Linnovaara’s work is just one of his parodying portraits. The Marquis de Sade, the Sun King (Louis XIV of France), Madame Pompadour and other historical figures have been reinvented. Linnovaara plays around with the pomposity of traditional portraits and makes fun of their gestures of power. Poking fun is not the only feature of Linnovaara’s portraits. Their colours are deliciously splendid and their figures spin rich tales.
There are many aspects of Linnovaara’s style linking him to surrealism, but he tends to be more of a free fantasist, from a family of storytellers. Linnovaara is unrivalled as a painter and graphic artist. When he began, he was one of the youngest artists in Finland.
The story goes that Linnovaara’s mother happened to sit next to the artist Lennart Segerstråle, on a bus, one day, and told the distinguished professor all about her talented 14-year-old son. The youngster got to show his work to Segerstråle, who was amazed that, instead of a fistful of drawings, the boy brought along a sled full of oil paintings. Linnovaara was accepted, at once as a private student at the Finnish Academy of Art. At that time Segerstråle was chairman of the Academy’s board. His decision was beyond reproach, as Finland was soon to have an artist who garnered international acclaim and showed that Finland’s art didn’t have to be deadly serious. Humour was allowed.