Salme Sarajas-Korte – A Pioneering Scholar of Symbolism

The Finnish art historian Salme Sarajas-Korte (b. 1925) was among the first researchers to initiate a discussion on the relations between artistic and mystical discourses. Her doctoral dissertation on Symbolist art, published in 1966, is an exceptionally profound survey on the theoretical framework of Symbolism, based on an understanding of the interconnectedness of Symbolist art with the broader cultural field of literature, philosophy, religion, and mysticism. It is still, after more than forty years have passed from its publication, an indispensable source of material and insight for researchers.

Sarajas-Korte was the first person in Finland who studied museology at Ecole du Louvre (1949-1950). She also followed lectures on Symbolist Literature at the Sorbonne, which gave her the initial impetus for her interest in Symbolist art – an area that was more or less unrecognized at that time. Later she did extensive archival work at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris and its collections of fin-de-siècle ephemera. The literary background is apparent in her research, which covers different cultural phenomena of the fin-de-siècle in a perceptive and erudite manner.

Since the 1960’s, Sarajas-Korte has produced numerous articles  which, in addition to her conspicuous work on fin-de-siècle art and culture, cover a broad spectrum of subjects, from cubism and expressionism to contemporary art. Several articles have also been published in Swedish, English, and French, thus making her ideas available for a broader international audience.

Sarajas-Korte had a long career at the Finnish National Gallery as curator and head of the Exhibitions and Communication Department. From 1969 to 1971 she held the position of the Professor of Art History at the University of Jyväskylä. In the 1980’s she worked for the publishing company Otava as the editor in chief for the award winning book series on the history of Finnish art (Ars – Suomen taide). She was also an active member of the movement that promoted the founding of a museum of Contemporary Art in Finland. In 1983 she was awarded an honorary professorship.

(Marja Lahelma & Juha-Heikki Tihinen)