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Autumn - Five Crosses: A preliminary work for the fresco in the Jusélius Mausoleum

Autumn - Five Crosses: A preliminary work for the fresco in the Jusélius Mausoleum
signed and dated 'AXEL GALLEN 1902' (lower left)
oil and tempera on canvas
29 ¾ x 56 3⁄8 in. (75.5 x 143 cm.)
Painted in 1902
Karl Wittgenstein, Vienna, by whom acquired directly from the artist, for his son the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, and thence by descent; their sale, Christie's, London, 29 November 1985, lot 35.
Acquired at the above sale, and thence by descent to the present owners.
S. Wichman, Japonisme: The Japanese influence on Western art since 1858, London, 1981, no. 686, pp. 255 & 257 (illustrated).
M. Nedo & M. Ranchetti, Ludwig Wittgenstein: Sein Leben in Bildern und Texten, Frankfurt, 1983, p. 55 (illustrated in situ in the Roten Salon in the Alleegassee).
J-J. Lévêque, Les Années de la Belle Époque 1890-1914, Paris, 1991, p. 438 (illustrated).
Munich, Haus der Kunst, Europäische Kunst um die Jahrhundertwende, March - May 1964, no. 157 (illustrated pl. 40; titled 'Winterlandschaft mit fünf Kreuzen' and with incorrect dimensions).
Montreal, Museum of Fine Arts, Lost Paradise: Symbolist Europe, June - October 1995, no. 125 (illustrated pl. 177, p. 154).
Helsinki, Ateneum, Akseli Gallen-Kallela, February - May 1996, no. 217; this exhibition later travelled to Turku, Art Museum, June - September 1996.
London, The Royal Academy of Arts, 1900: Art at the Crossroads, January - April 2000.
London, Victoria and Albert Museum, Art Nouveau 1890-1914, April - July 2000, no. 26.7, p. 381 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Washington D.C., The National Gallery of Art, October 2000 - January 2001.
Groningen, Groninger Museum, Akseli Gallen-Kallela, The Spirit of Finland, December 2006 - April 2007 (illustrated p. 220).
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wintermärchen, Winter-Darstellungen in der europäischen Kunst von Bruegel bis Beuys, October 2011 - January 2012, no. 172, p. 394 (illustrated p. 395; titled 'Herbst'); this exhibition later travelled to Zurich, Kunsthaus, February - April 2012.

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Keith Gill
Keith Gill Head of Department

Lot Essay

A painting from one of the artist’s most important masterpieces. A meeting point of Art Nouveau and Symbolism. A symphony in creativity and collaboration on an epic scale for an especially meaningful commission.

Autumn – Five Crosses (1902). A preliminary work for the fresco in the Jusélius Mausoleum.
Jusélius Mausoleum is a unique artistic entity in the history of Finnish art. The neo-gothic octagonal building was built in the graveyard of Käppärä, in Pori, between 1898–1903. The architect Josef Stenbäck (1854-1929) and Akseli Gallen-Kallela, who was responsible for the painted decoration of the interior, fulfilled the commission from F. A. Jusélius, a wealthy businessman, who wanted a burial chapel to be built in memory of his daughter Sigrid, who had died at the age of eleven.
Architect Stenbäck had approached Gallen-Kallela in 1899 suggesting the work and describing his vision for the frescoes: ‘Regarding the theme, I have thought that the frescoes … should symbolically depict the victory of death over matter and the victory of the spirit over death’ (J. Stenbäck-Axel Gallén quoted in O. Okkonen, A. Gallen-Kallela, elämä ja taide, Helsinki, 1961, p. 222). Despite all the pressure the artist was going through at that time in preparing the frescoes for the Paris World Fair 1900 Pavilion, he was immediately fascinated by the project: ‘I namely take a commission such as this most seriously …Not to mention the sublime elements that would come into use in the paintings suggested by you, I find the themes so noble that it rends my heart to dream of them’ (A. Gallén-Josef Stenbäck quoted in ibid., p. 226.).
Gallen-Kallela’s visual concept of the frescoes evolved from Stenbäck’s ideas and was mixed with family tragedy: I intend to depict the slow, winding course of our people along the ridge of life to Tuonela [the realm of the dead]. This matter became even clearer in my mind after the death of my daughter a few years ago’ (ibid.; Gallen-Kallela’s first child Marjatta died at the age of four in 1895).
The Jusélius mausoleum thus became a monument resting on the sorrow of two men who had lost children. It also became a watershed for Gallen-Kallela, a kind of mid-statement of his artistic career. In these frescoes, he achieved a stylistic culmination of his national romantic period of the 1890s. He converted into images his knowledge and experiences of life, nature, and folklore. The frescoes also refer to the old European dance macabre tradition of which Stenbäck was keen on (T. Wahlroos, Elämän harjulla, 2015, p. 11).
Gallen-Kallela started the project in the summer of 1901, commencing with the dome. It was painted with Finnish flora in spring bloom as its common denominator. The eight lozenge-shaped fields of the dome were filled with paintings of different trees: pine, aspen, birch, sallow, spruce, oak, alder, and rowan. The triangular fields in between them were decorated with berries and other shrubbery in bloom.
In the summer of 1902, the frescoes Cosmos and Paradise were painted on the fields above the choir of the central hall and the porch doors. The former is also known as The Harmony of the Spheres in Gallen-Kallela’s notes. Combined in this painting are cosmic eternity, the birth of the planets, the musical element transcending space – the ineffable harmony of the universe. This fresco was matched by Paradise, reflecting theosophical influences and teachings from Christianity. A narrow path leads through a green lawn to a doorway in a wall where two figures in white meet with joy. Beyond the wall is a fantastical garden depicted in shining light.
In the summer of 1903 the six large frescoes of the octagonal central hall were painted. Together, they form a symbolic cycle starting with the spring of life and ending in winter cloaked in sleep. Spring represents the beginning of life, the innocence of childhood and its loss, as suggested by the maiden in black looking out of the picture. The future is shown in Building as hard work, clearing and toiling for one’s livelihood. The River of Tuonela, the realm of the dead, summons people of all ages, children and men in their prime, the elderly. Gallen-Kallela, who painted himself in the picture, is shown to be in this realm before he is ready. He looks back from the scene to Building, to work to be done.
The frescoes Destruction, Autumn and Winter continue the saga with landscapes where human existence gradually diminishes. Destruction is faintly reminiscent of Gallén’s visit to Vesuvius – the surprising nature of the catastrophe and its power of destruction. Autumn presents a bleak landscape with black crosses, the freezing sea, a restlessly quivering willow. Compared with Autumn, Winter is a step ahead – grief has lost its colour and emotion. All that remains is the long, white sleep.
Finally the choir was decorated with the Tree of Life theme. The crypt where Sigrid Jusélius was buried was painted with six symbolic signs: a skull, an ankh cross, the Star of David, an ancient religious swastika, a cross and a square.

Autumn – Five Crosses (1902)
Autumn – Five Crosses is an example of how Gallen-Kallela transferred the landscape into a monumental form. Depicting landscapes has a position in Gallen-Kallela’s work. His realistic landscapes in the 1880’s are immediate and eager, carefully detailed and personal. In the 1890’s he loaded his wilderness views with symbolic content, a certain feeling of loneliness and the drama of captured fleeting moments.
The landscape of Autumn is familiar from Gallen-Kallela’s earlier Kalevala work Revenge of Joukahainen (1897).
The Kalevala is the national epic of Finland and is one of the most significant works of Finnish literature. Gallen-Kallela's Revenge of Joukahainen (1897) depicts the 6th Kalevala song where young Joukahainen is determined to kill old seer Väinämöinen. In it the Northern, dark, and melancholic nature foresees the violent act that is coming. The pressing feeling is everywhere: grey clouds lay low, the water waves heavily and the yellow arrow-like leaves of willow tremor restlessly. In outlining Autumn the artist continued with this setting, merging it with his earlier studies of late autumn moods (O. Okkonen, A. Gallen-Kallela, elämä ja taide, Porvoo & Helsinki, 1961, p. 607-608). Located by the sea, Pori offered a way to interpret these views on a monumental scale. It is here where the five crosses come into picture.
In Autumn – Five Crosses the human presence is revealed by the forgotten graves of the wayside (O. Okkonen Finnish Art, Helsinki, 1941, p. 292). Five black crosses on the desperate, windy seashore symbolize the life that has passed, the end of everything. Inspired by the closeness of the sea, they can even be seen symbolizing the shipwreck, the poor fate of a man. Autumn also tells how nature prepares itself for death through winter. The first snow has landed on the bare ground, and grey-green ice rafts are the first signs of the freezing sea.
Only a year after the frescoes were finished, signs of damage appeared in them, and the frescoes were ultimately destroyed in a fire in 1931, after the artist’s death that same year. The mausoleum was restored in the 1930’s and in connection with the restoration Gallen-Kallela’s son Jorma (1898-1939) made (new) copies after his father’s preliminary works. Masterpieces such as this work informed the new copies in the mausoleum today. Despite all the obstacles the mausoleum has lived on in the history of Finnish art as possibly the most pure-bred expression of the art nouveau spirit and can be experienced on the spot in Pori even today (the mausoleum is looked after by Sigrid Jusélius Foundation), or through the delicate preliminary works that have remained. This particular preliminary work can be considered a masterpiece in it's own right, a tour-de-force which was purchased directly from the artist by Karl Wittgenstein for his son, the eminent philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.

We are grateful to Tuija Wahlroos, Director of The Gallen-Kallela Museum, Helsinki, for her assistance in cataloguing this work.

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