Hugo Simberg


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Finnish painter and graphic artist, born at Hamina. After training at the Finnish Fine Arts Association in Helsinki, he studied privately with Gallen-Kallela, on whose advice he made a tour abroad in 1896, visiting London, where he admired the work of the Pre-Raphaelites, and Paris. In 1897–8 he travelled in Italy, and in 1899 he visited the Caucasus. Although he painted fairly straightforward landscapes and portraits, most of Simberg's work is in a highly distinctive Symbolist vein. Drawing on his country's rich folk traditions, he depicted a vividly imaginative world in which devils and angels and personifications of Death and Frost mingle with humans. In such work his style was colourful and bizarre, sometimes with an almost naive quality of freshness. Gallen-Kallela wrote that Simberg had a ‘quite wonderful gift, completely in the character of the Old Masters of the thirteen or fourteen hundreds. And it is a genuine, not affected, naivety. His works seem like sermons that everyone must listen to, and they stick in the memory.’ Simberg usually worked on a small scale (his output includes many watercolours, drawings, and etchings), but in 1904–7 he did impressive monumental work, including frescos and stained glass, for the newly-built church (now cathedral) at Tampere, Finland's second largest city. His later career was marred by illness.

From A Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Art in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Art.

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