Photo: © Bank of Finland
FASTEST OF ALL
The stories that surround the ‘Bohemian king’, Jalmari Ruokokoski (1886-1936) were of him as a friend of all things alcohol and as a master of speedy wallet-emptying. In 1913, Ruokokoski staged a successful exhibition in Helsinki’s Atheneum Art Museum. He sold every single one of his works and the celebrations didn’t end until all the money he had earned from the exhibition had been spent. Morning to night his rental car was parked at his door waiting to whisk anyone who needed it off to the following party.
There was reason for the success. He painted colourful, luscious and fluid works. In the exhibition critiques his works were even compared to the splendour of the Renaissance: “What imagination! What versatility! As if a magic wand or a Renaissance master had created on canvas decorative, romantic-spirited freshness!”
Seeing and experiencing the world, and Paris in particular, had freed up Ruokokoski’s style in the 1910s. His colourful expressionism appealed to the public. Ruokokoski became a legend, just as did his speedy pace of working. In 1913, while painting at the artists’ colony of Helsingör, established by Danish master tailor Rydeng, Ruokokoski painted almost 60 paintings in five weeks. They were the key works that formed the exhibition in the Atheneum. Many Nordic artists spent time at the Rydeng’s colony, notable from Finland, were Juho Mäkelä and Tyko Sallinen.
Perhaps the success of the exhibition at the Atheneum was still evident in the fine portraits he produced over the following year. The artist has painted his portrait with his cap on and his head proudly tilted up, a distant world-weary look in his eyes or perhaps he’s just plain tired. Ruokokoski’s Swedish-Italian wife, the trapeze artist Elvira Bono – with her link to the circus, that was, after all, a theme close to Ruokokoski’s heart – has walked out of their marriage and massive debts loom over the artist. “Woman” painted in the same year is painted with a velvety softness, but the pale model’s depression is palpable.
Artist Jalmari Ruokokoski