In 1894 Akseli Gallen-Kallela painted “The Symposium” meaning a meeting or gathering. It also refers to Symposion, the name of the group of Finnish artists in which Gallen-Kallela was a leading figure. The artist himself can be seen in the upper left corner of the painting.
He also portrayed his friends, Oskar Merikanto, Robert Kajanus, and Jean Sibelius, suddenly glimpsing something profound in the middle of heavy drinking.The theme was inspired by an evening at the Hotel Kämp, where the artists often congregated. Here they could discuss their thoughts and ideas in a relaxed atmosphere.
When the painting was unveiled, people were scandalized by the drinking, and little thought was given to the symbolism of the work. On the other hand, everyone understood that Gallen-Kallela was a serious artist who did not create watered down art”, says Leena Ahtola-Moorhouse, Chief Curator at Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki.
Ahtola-Moorhouse explains that Gallen-Kallela wanted to impress with his art while at the same time revealing something of the creative process. In the sketch a “forest of meaning” can be seen in the background. This artistic element described the imagination of his colleagues. In “The Symposium” the phoenix wings can also be seen as symbolizing the miracle of creation.
In addition to Gallen-Kallela, legendary Finnish composer Jean Sibelius and other young talented artists at the time were inspired by the national awakening to create something really new, something Finnish. The gatherings of artists at the Hotel Kämp were based on a genuine need and desire to exchange ideas.
“It was believed at the time that certain forms of art work in synthesis, each complementing the other. Accordingly, the creativity described in “The Symposium” also represents companionship and collaboration”, Ahtola-Moorhouse explains.