Hugo Simberg, Dark Optimist
It is one of those rare cloudy , drizzly days here in the City of Angels; on my “desktop” sits Simberg’s Garden of Death , I felt today may be a good day to explore this Finnish master.
Simberg, best known for his themes of Death, the Devil, and Youth, seems to grapple with notions concerning mortality, the very joy of breathing, and the ever present specter of decay. Although I at times feel uncomfortable with his very young and very nude young boys, they may very simply depict Innocence. I must remember to look at his painting through the prism of his culture.
What is very apparent is the wit in which he depicts themes that in less capable hands would have resorted to mere macabre cliche.
oil on canvas
Two watercolors glued on canvas
b. 24th of June 1873
d. 12th July 1917
From the following 1896 photo with his sister Blenda (which he snapped himself with a time release camera) I sense a charming joy that he seems unable to contain. That joy resurfaces time and again with his impish Devils and goofy depictions of somber Death.
They really are both too adorable, love her cap.
Finnish National Gallery
In 1904 he receives the commission to decorate the interior of the Evangelical Lutheran Saint John’s Church , the Garden of Death will appear as a fresco, more subtle, but just as delightful and just as haunting.
It is within this sacred space we see Simberg further explore his themes of Death and Youth. His imagery is fresh and new, yet harkens to traditional church decoration. His Garden of Death, not unlike medieval depiction of the Final Judgement, the difference with Simberg’s work is you smile as you shudder.
The Garland of Life frieze stands in sharp contrast to his flower culling skeletons.
One would assume the boys we see in his frieze decoration are inspired by his early photography of young boys. These are the images that cause me to pause with discomfort.
Whatever truth lies behind the images, innocent or tainted, the frieze is indeed spectacular.
For a tour of the interior, please check out the following clip, the quality is quite poor, but gives a good sense of the relationship to the work and the architecture, which is surprisingly conventional.
Simberg is best known for his painting the Wounded Angel, but he created a large body of work that is well worth examining.
oil on canvas
I find inspiration in Simberg’s work, I hope to research his life more deeply; my cursory exploration has unearthed scant information.
Until then, I sign off with this final image, one I enjoy immensely, as I have a great fondness for peacock decorated fabric, puppets AND starlings, what more can one ask for?
If I have unintentionally screwed up spelling of titles, location, etc., please pardon my ignorance and indicate where I have erred.
Have a marvelous sunday, the clouds have broken in LA, I will now go out for a quick run.