The Idea of North: Myth-Making and Identities – new publication out now!

The articles collected in this volume shed light on mythical conceptualisations of the North and northern identities from various perspectives relating to art and visual culture in the Nordic countries, Scotland, and Canada. The authors examine revivals and assimilations of the North, taking into consideration issues such as mythical origins, spiritual agendas, and notions of race and nationalism, tackling also those aspects of northernness that attach themselves to politically sensitive issues.

Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century is a series of refereed, scholarly e-publications focusing on various aspects of nineteenth-century art and culture.

Vierailu WSOY:n taidekokoelmaan / Visit to WSOY’s Art Collection 25.3.2019

The Birch and the Star kutsuu jäsenensä vierailulle WSOY:n kirjallisuussäätiön taidekokoelmaan maanantaina 25.3. klo 18.00. Ilmoittaudu mukaan to 21.3. mennessä facebookissa tai sähköpostitse Kokoonnumme klo 18.00 rakennuksen edustalla osoitteessa Lönnrotinkatu 18.00.

Jos et vielä ole The Birch and the Starin jäsen, voit liittyä vierailun yhteydessä!

Tervetuloa mukaan!


The Birch and the Star invites its members for a visit to WSOY’s Literature Foundation’s Art Collection on Monday 25 March at 6 pm. Please sign up by 21 March on facebook or by sending an email to We will meet at 6 pm in front of the building at Lönnrotinkatu 18.

If you are not a member of The Birch and the Star but would like to join the association, you can do that during the visit!


Wäinö Aaltonen: Lukeva nainen, 1948.
Pastelli, 27 x 22 cm

Symbolist Art and the Baltic Sea Region, 1880–1930

Conference at Kumu Art Museum, Tallinn, Estonia

31 January – 2 February 2019

Organised by Art Museum of Estonia – Kumu Art Museum
and Estonian Society of Art Historians and Curators

Symbolist art, with its mystical landscapes of the soul, otherworldly visions of the afterlife and pathological degenerations of the self, has witnessed a meteoric rise in scholarly interest and exhibition programming in the past decade. In critique of the field’s francocentric origins, touring shows have become ever more international in their representation, yet, with rare exceptions, artists from the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have remained conspicuously absent from these narratives. The pioneering 2018 exhibition “Wild Souls: Symbolism in the Baltic States” curated by Rodolphe Rapetti at the Musée d’Orsay was a pivotal step in addressing this omission, introducing the sensuous musings of turn-of-the-century Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian modernists to an international public eager to learn more about this cadre of fascinating artists. Despite this well-deserved and overdue international acclaim, the works of even the most iconic and beloved artists—Janis Rozentāls, Konrad Mägi, and even Mikalojus Čiurlionis—remain largely unknown among neighboring countries across the Baltic Sea. This enduring unfamiliarity is especially puzzling given the fact that their creative endeavors, including their most distinctive National Romantic artworks, mediated the multiethnic, multilingual, and multiconfessional reality of the Baltic Sea Region and its colonial history. What role has historiography and the writing of art history played in making these artists simultaneously so visible at home, yet practically invisible abroad? How might we transcend national narratives to create more holistic accounts of the region in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century? What are the new approaches to Baltic art of the period? In which ways can new research paradigms open up a dialogue between Baltic materials and global discussions on art and art history?

In collaboration with the exhibition “Wild. Souls. Symbolism in the Art of the Baltic Countries” (12 October 2018 – 3 February 2019 Kumu Art Museum), the Kumu Art Museum and the Estonian Society of Art Historians and Curators seek to address this lacuna with an international conference highlighting the transcultural networks of Symbolist art across the Baltic Sea Region between 1880 and 1930. As we strive to overcome the enduring national boundaries of art history, we envision the conference as a seminal opportunity specifically to bring Baltic Symbolism to an unprecedented level of international scholarly inquiry as well as an inimitable opportunity to foster a transnational, yet distinctly regional network of Symbolist scholars, curators, and specialists.

>> Click here to see the full programme

There is no participation fee, but participants are expected to cover their transportation and accommodation costs, as well as lunches and dinners.

Prior registration is required of all participants.

>> Click here for registration and further information

Call for Papers: Towards modernity in sculpture -­ Gustav Vigeland and his contemporaries

Date: 23 and 24 May 2019
Place: Sentralen, Oslo, Norway

On the occasion of the Vigeland Jubilee 2019, the Vigeland Museum, in partnership with the Department of Philosophy, Classics, History of Art and Ideas at the University of Oslo, is extending an invitation for a two- day seminar on the evolution of sculpture in the period 1890-1920, with a special focus on Gustav Vigeland and his French contemporaries.

The seminar will be held in conjunction with the Jubilee Exhibition staged in the Vigeland Museum (12 April – 15 September 2019). In the exhibition, Vigeland is presented together with Constantin Meunier (1831-1905), Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), Aristide Maillol (1861-1944) and Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929). These artists contributed to the evolution of modern sculpture in different ways, while also being of special interest to Vigeland. The purpose of the exhibition is to present the development of Vigeland’s work in an art historical context, thus enriching our understanding of its various aspects. A shift within European sculpture took place towards the end of the 19th Century, comparable to what had happened in the field of painting a few decades earlier. This was mainly a break with the preceding academic tradition, or salon sculpture, where subject matter was commonly related to mythological and allegorical topics and execution was characterized by a delicate flair. In this transitional context, Auguste Rodin is considered the leading figure. His break with the past was not radical, but his extensive experimentation with form and movement was liberating. Another pioneer was the Belgian artist Constantin Meunier. In his realistic representations of workers, one finds a simplification of form and exclusion of details, which points forward. In the early 19th Century, further development went in different directions, but a (gradual or radical) simplification can be said to be a common denominator.

The seminar will shed light on the various aspects of this development. What was the impact of Greek (Archaic and Classical), Egyptian and so-ˇcalled Primitive art in this context? What formal and topical considerations engaged the artists? In what way were they influenced by current ideologies and changes in society? What characterizes the monumental sculpture of the period – and the new monuments? How did sculpture become an international concern in this period?

Submission of papers

We want papers to explore individual practices, networks, theoretical perspectives and ideologies. Contributions that shed light on the period from a social and philosophical perspective are welcome.

Proposals should contain:
a) a 300-word summary
b) academic CV
c) contact information

Presentations are 20 minutes, followed by a discussion.

Proposals should be sent to both and

by 1 March 2019.

Call for Papers: Approaching esotericism and mysticism

International conference “Approaching esotericism and mysticism: Cultural influences”

Turku (Åbo), Finland, 5–7 June 2019 

This multidisciplinary conference approaches the traditions of Western esotericism and mysticism from a cultural-historical perspective. The aim is to analyse the diverse influences of esoteric ideas and practices and the various forms of mysticism in their cultural-historical surroundings. We promote approaches that focus on individuals, groups and networks, and various archival source materials, but we also welcome papers dealing with esoteric or mystical textual traditions.

The conference will consist of keynote lectures and sessions that can be either traditional paper sessions or roundtable talks and panels.  The social program of the conference will consist of e.g. esoteric and occult walking tours in Turku and artistic performances (plans for an event together with Art Teatro Circus -group). An excursion to the exhibition on Finnish art and clairvoyance at the Gallen-Kallela Museum (11 May –8 September 2019) is also being planned. The exhibition is part of the research project Seekers of the New and is curated by Nina Kokkinen.

We invite people from different academic backgrounds to discuss western esotericism and mysticism included but not limited to the following topics:

  • Esotericism and mysticism in art, literature and music
  • Esotericism and mysticism in popular culture
  • Esotericism and mysticism in Nordic countries, Eastern Europe, South Europe etc.
  • Esotericism, mysticism and transnational networks
  • What has been hidden, silenced or otherwise remained in the margins of esoteric and mystical traditions and in the research field (e.g. gender, class, ethnicity…).
  • Ethics and positioning in the study of esotericism and mysticism
  • Individuals and archival sources in the study of esotericism and mysticism

To apply, please send an abstract (or panel proposal with abstracts) of approximately 150 words to the Donner Institute,, no later than 31 December 2018. Letters of acceptance will be posted no later than 31 January, 2019.

Selected papers from the conference will be published in volume 29 of the Donner Institute Series Scripta Instituti Donneriani Aboensis as the co-publication of the Donner Institute and research project Seekers of the New.

The expert symposium is arranged jointly by the Donner Institute for Research in Religious and Cultural history and the research project Seekers of the New: Esotericism and the transformation of religiosity in Finland during the era of modernisation, 1880-1940 at the University of Turku. The project is funded by the Kone Foundation.

Conference website:

Facebook event: Approaching esotericism and mysticism

Hashtag: #esomyst2019

Taiteilijaelämää: Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Hugo Simberg, Ellen Thesleff

Miten elämä taipuu tarinaksi? Voiko kauan sitten kuolleen ihmisen tavoittaa? Kuinka taide ja elämä kohtaavat?

Näistä ja muista taiteilijaelämäkertoihin ja niiden kirjoittamiseen liittyvistä kysymyksistä keskustellaan Gallen-Kallelan Museolla sunnuntaina 21.10. klo 13. Tilaisuuden avaa taidehistorioitsija Marja Lahelma alustuksella vasta ilmestyneestä Akseli Gallen-Kallelan elämäkertateoksestaan. Sen jälkeen paneelikeskustelussa mukana Helena Ruuska, jonka Hugo Simberg -elämäkerta ilmestyi syyskuussa, sekä Ellen Thesleffistä viime vuonna elämäkerran julkaissut Hanna-Reetta Schreck. Keskustelua johdattelee taidehistorioitsija Riikka Stewen. The Birch and the Star järjestää tilaisuuden yhteistyössä Gallen-Kallelan Museon kanssa.

Museon pääsylipulla.
Tilaisuus korvaa kyseisen sunnuntain yleisöopastuksen.


Surrealism in and of Scandinavia, University of Oslo, 30 Nov 2018

The conference is organized by the ”Munch, Modernism, and Modernity” research group.

Olav Strømme, «Død blomst», 1935. Foto: Richard Jeffries ©Munchmuseet

Surrealism is without question one of the most influential and mutating intellectual and aesthetic practices emerging from the twentieth century. But “when” was Surrealism and “where” was Surrealism?

The movement was codified in Paris in the 1920s and ’30s with André Breton’s Manifesto of Surrealism (1924) as its foundational marker. For Breton, a revolutionary condition of Surrealism was its internationalism. Its participants held a wide range of nationalities; and throughout the 1930s, with Paris as a node, it appeared as an artistic and cultural movement on every continent due to the applicability of its revolutionary ideals and artistic practices to a variety of political and cultural circumstances. As a global movement it is often measured against, or understood within, the evolving thinking and artistic strategies of Parisian Surrealism. Recent studies have called attention to the culturally specific practices that constitute Surrealism as a global movement, drawing attention to more complex narratives within a multitude of manifestations and activities, challenging the canonical notion of Parisian Surrealism.

What were the specific entanglements of Surrealism and Scandinavia? For example, in a neglected passage of the First Manifesto of Surrealism (1924), André Breton paid homage to Knut Hamsun. Quoting at length from his novel Hunger (1890), Breton attributed the notion of automatic delirium to the Norwegian author, thus championing his prose as a quintessential precursor to Surrealism. In 1894 August Strindberg, whom Breton in Arcane 17 (1944) proclaimed to belong to a lineage of prominent revolutionary thinkers, published an essay in the Parisian magazine La revue des revues, declaring the need for a new art through the application of chance in artistic creation. In 1934, Vilhelm Bjerke-Petersen declared the need for a Surrealist revolution in Scandinavia, and a number of artists joined the movement, organizing talks and exhibitions, publishing books and periodicals as well as adapting Surrealist strategies into their own practices.

This conference seeks to invigorate these intersections, and to ponder how Scandinavia has been surrealist and vice versa. We wish to probe historical, aesthetic, formal and cultural discourses, – French and Scandinavian, or of other origin for that matter – which may shed light on the productive intersection of Surrealism and Scandinavia. We hope to complicate the traditional historical narrative of “Scandinavian Surrealism” and to re-open and expand the question of Surrealism’s broader relevance to art and culture in and of Scandinavia.


8:30. Registration and coffee

9:00. Introduction

9:15. Keynote address: Karen Karen Kurczynski, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

10:15. Coffee Break

10:45. Panel I:  Symbolism in and of Surrealism
Panel Chair: Jon-Ove Steihaug, Munch Museum

Thor Mednick, U. Toledo, “I Grow Fatigued: Jens Lund and the Emergence of Nordic Surrealisms”

Clarence B. Sheffield, Rochester Institute of Technology, “Haakon Bugge Mahrt’s Modernisme and the Complex Cultural Context of Scandinavian Surrealism ”

Marja Lahelma and Hanna-Reeta Schreck, U. Helsinki & Independent Scholar: “Ellen Thesleff’s Art in a Surrealist Context”


12:00. Lunch Break

1:15. Panel 2: Women in and of Surrealism
Panel Chair:  Pat Berman, Wellesley College

Kerry Greaves, U. Copenhagen, “Women, Surrealism, and Denmark”

Martin Sundberg, Norrköping Art Museum, “In and out of Surrealism: Greta Knutson-Tzara and the Swedish Art Scene”

Ulla Angkjær Jørgensen, NTNU, “Modish and Erotic Fabulations. Rita Kernn-Larsen’s Surrealism”


2:30. Panel 3: Narrative in and of Surrealism
Panel Chair:  Øystein Ustvedt, National Museum

Lars Toft-Eriksen, Munch Museum and UiO, “Rolf Stenersen and the Surrealism of Edvard Munch”

Emil Leth Meilvang, UiO, “Psycho-biology and life aesthetics in Danish, inter war Surrealism”

Kristoffer Noheden, Stockholm University, “Surrealism in Stockholm: 1949, 1986”


3:45. Coffee break

4:00 Response and group discussion

6:30 Dinner for the speakers

Conference fee: kr. 200 / 100 for students. The fee covers coffee/tea and lunch.

Register and pay here

This is the eighth conference organized and sponsored by the Munch, Modernism, and Modernity Research Group at the University of Oslo, the Munch Museum, and the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design in Oslo.

The planning committee: Patricia Berman, Emil Leth Meilvang, Mai Britt Guleng, Ute Kuhlemann Falck, Jon-Ove Steihaug, Øystein Ustvedt, Øivind Storm Bjerke, and Øystein Sjåstad.

For questions:

CFP: Knowledge on the Move – The Circulation of Knowledge and Skills during the Long 19th Century

The 11thannual conference of the Finnish Network for 19thCentury Studies

Time: 24–25 January 2019

Venue: University of Oulu, Finland

The theme of the 11thannual conference of the Finnish Network for 19th-Century Studies is the circulation of knowledge. “Knowledge” here refers not only to scientific or scholarly knowledge but also to oral, tacit, lay and folk knowledge, practical know-how, capacities and skills. The network and the conference are interdisciplinary: they bring together scholars from the historical disciplines, art, music and literary studies, linguistics and ethnography. We invite scholars from these and related fields to investigate the many forms, roles and functions of knowledge and knowledge transmission between the French revolution and the First World War. The questions that the papers address might include, for instance:

  • how knowledge was produced in this particular historical context and how it, in turn, shaped individuals, communities and societies;
  • how knowledge was transferred from one place, group and individual to another and how it changed in the process;
  • what was the relationship between theoretical knowledge and practical skills;
  • what was the role of education and apprenticeship in the transmission of knowledge and (e.g. technical, artisanal, musical, artistic) skills;
  • who were the key mediators and what was their role in this process;
  • how knowledge was conceptualised and how it was incorporated in the material world (e.g. objects and buildings);
  • how knowledge was traded and marketed, and how its movement was restricted and regulated; how knowledge was kept secret;
  • who – in terms of gender, class and race – were in the position to create knowledge, circulate it and claim proprietary rights over it;
  • what was the relationship between power and knowledge;
  • what can different approches (e.g. digital humanities, the biographical approach, gender studies) contribute to the study of circulation of knowledge?

Both empirical and methodological papers are welcome. The conference languages are English, Swedish and Finnish.

The keynote speakers are Professor (emerita) Carolyn Steedman (University of Warwick, UK), Professor Brita Brenna (University of Oslo) and Senior Lecturer Markku Hokkanen (University of Oulu). Professor Steedman is a prominent historian of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain. Her books explore, among other things, childhood, domestic service, everyday working-class life, everyday legal knowledge and practices, life writing and the legacy of 19th-century historiography. Professor Brenna’s primary field of expertise is the interrelationship between production of knowledge, techniques of representation and exhibition practices. She also teaches museology and museum studies. Dr Hokkanen’s work research deals with modern colonial and imperial history, African history and the history of medicine.

Please email a 250-300 word proposal, together with your affiliation and contact information, by September 15 2018 to Tiina Kinnunen ( or Heini Hakosalo ( Session proposals should contain a short desciption of the central theme of the session, the names and affiliations of the presenters (and possibly a discussant and the chair) and the titles of the papers. The proposals will be reviewed and the participants notified by October 15 2018. The programme will be published in November 2018 at the home page of the Finnish Network for 19th-Century Studies, at, where the registration also takes place.

The conference is organised by the University of Oulu (Faculty of Humanities) in collaboration with the Finnish Network of Nineteenth Century Studies and the Finnish Literature Society.

CFP in PDF-format


The Birch and the Star’s trip to Ainola

On 29 August 2018 members of The Birch and the Star visited Ainola, the home of composer Jean Sibelius and his family, located in Järvenpää close to many other artists’ homes around Lake Tuusula. We spent the afternoon exploring every nook and corner of the charming early 20th century house designed by the architect Lars Sonck. We were even allowed to take a peak into parts of the house that are usually closed from the public. In the upstairs bedroom the presence of Aino Sibelius, who continued to live there after her husband’s death, could still be felt. And in the little room where Jean Sibelius had spent hours composing, reading and thinking, we encountered a ceramic bust of Beethoven sculpted by Sibelius’ friend Sigurd Wettenhovi-Aspa. The wonderful collection of artworks mostly consists of gifts given to Sibelius and his family by artist friends and admirers of the composer’s work. The garden has been kept beautifully with some plants originating from the time the Sibelius family still lived there. Of course we also stoped to pay our respects at Jean and Aino Sibelius’ grave.

We wish to thank museum director Hanne Selkokari for being such a wonderful host!