Towards the end of the nineteenth-century, European artists began to express a new profound interest in their unique local pasts and cultural inheritances. This growing sense of identity prompted a major flowering of Nationalist debate concerning the fast disappearing regional cultures throughout Europe. This was a discourse largely shaped by the desire within several countries for cultural and artistic, and ultimately social and economic, independence.

As the new century dawned national mythological epics and literature, such as the Kalevala in Finland, the Cuchulainn legend in Ireland and stories of Ossian in Scotland, became a major vehicle of cultural expression and created some of the most important art of the age. Several of the most influential artists of the period were also key figures in this movement. They worked across all artistic media from small-scale traditional domestic crafts and large-scale design to major schemes of architecture and often rather than producing easel-painting artists undertook monumental programmes of mural decoration or stained glass because of the social implications such public art held. For those countries that had not yet achieved their dream of self-sovereignty it became imperative to promote their unique distinctive cultural present as unbroken with the past. This became particularly important for those small nations on the northern, eastern and western fringes of Europe and especially those that had been conquered and divided by powerful neighbours.

Although it is well known that countries on such fringes of Europe’s borders such as Finland, Norway, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Czech, Poland and Hungary had unique and far-reaching cultural renaissances in the form of a ‘Revival’, it is less well known that although each was distinctive they also had much in common. And although direct connections existed, between Finnish and Hungarian artists or Irish and Scottish artists, several other factors contributed to a largely undocumented system of interaction and exchange from the educational and exhibiting opportunities in Paris, London, Berlin and Vienna; and the foundation of national collections of museums and research into vernacular and folk cultures; the rise of mythology and legendary history in literature and music; to the multitude of localised ‘national’ exhibitions of contemporary art and new forms of integrated art and architecture in various local manifestations of the Gesamtkunstwerk; and the major role played by displays at the International Exhibitions and World’s Fairs of the period.

It is within this Europe-wide movement that the idea of a renewal of art and design as a cornerstone of modern society was forged. The influence of unique local artistic traditions found fullest expression in forms of indigenous folk art and, although the globalising industrial revolution threatened many such folk traditions with extinction, at the heart of the ‘revivals’ movement was a desire to refine art and society for the modern age. Thus, the focus on themes drawn from the life of the people, indigenous material culture, question of identity, mythological past, and the native landscape carries an enduring significance that is still powerfully resonant in our own contemporary cultures in the twenty-first century.

The project and its aim:

Established in 2009, the ‘European Revivals’ research project aims to reflect upon these national revivals in Europe, where art historical scholarship on the subject has already been broadly established. However, there has never been a joint project that examines this phenomenon on a wider-scale and that has sought to analyse the multifarious connections and correspondences, which helped shape the identities of each of these modern nations. The ‘European Revivals’ project, therefore, aims to study and show the similarities and differences of these countries for the first time on a European-scale and will explore different aspects at each conference. ‘European Revivals’ will continue to 2017 and will end with a publication and an international exhibition.

We invite researchers and museum professionals to join the European Revivals – Modern Identities, International Conference in Helsinki the 10 -12 October 2012 and to participate in a workshop on multimedia and display. Our aim is to continue the project in Helsinki by drawing National Museums and Galleries and scholars together in the second European Revivals Conference at Ateneum Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery.

Proposals for 20-minute presentations (400 words max) and a brief curriculum vitae should be sent to Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff,

Plenary speakers will be announced soon

Deadline for proposals 20th of August 2012

Presentations on the following topics are sought:

Artistic Exchange

  • The importance of the metropolis: Paris, London, Berlin, Vienna
  • Occulture, theosophy, spiritualism and symbolism
  • Beyond Europe: Artists’ travels
  • Artists’ colonies and communities in Europe and beyond

The Question of Identity  

  • Modern identity and the revivalist phenomena
  • Shifting identities: japonisme and exoticism
  • The cultural, economic and artistic pre-conditions of the ‘revivalist movement’
  • Text and image: reinventing visual language

Gesamtkunstwerk as an ideology

  • ‘Revivals’ and cultural hierarchies
  • Reinventing painting: mural art and stained glass
  • Architecture as metaphor for rebuilding modern identity
  • Exploring boundaries between fine art, decorative art and architecture
  • Material culture: Folk art and vernacular revivalism

The Modern Identities Conference will be accompanied by an extensive exhibition on Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946). The major retrospective exhibition shows artworks throughout her career from 1870s to 1940s. The exhibition is open to delegates during the conference.

Booking fee: 60 euros (speaker) and 100 euros (delegate) participating the excursion
30 euros (speaker) and 50 euros (delegate) and 30 euros (student) without the excursion

Conference fee will include the Reception on Wednesday, visiting the Ateneum Art Museum and Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946) exhibition, the conference programme and coffee/tea, and also the Excursion day with lunch and visits to the museums and transportation.

For further information please contact:
Curator Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff,
Finnish National Gallery
Kaivokatu 2
00100 Helsinki