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Literary Impressionisms

Camilla Storskog

Part I: Lirerary Impressionism. A variety of concerns

5. Literary Impressionism and Finland. A critical digest

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  • 1   Investigation of literary criticism in the Finnish newspapers has been done with the help of the (...)

1The aim of the following paragraphs is to bring into focus the concept of literary impressionism mainly within the context of Finland-Swedish literature. The attempt is to show to what extent the critical debate in Finland-Swedish reviews and newspapers demonstrated an awareness of the idea of impressionism in literary writing and what aspects of the phenomenon this understanding encapsulated. This has been done by undertaking a survey of the use of the term in the literary criticism present in the review Finsk tidskrift and in the Finnish newspapers published in Swedish from approximately 1870 to 19101. By examining the critical attitudes to literary impressionism in Finland, I hope to add a piece to the greater Scandinavian mosaic that is still being shaped by the contributions of scholars who have tried to clarify the impact of impressionism on Danish, Norwegian and, even if only partly, Swedish literature. No effort to assess the role of impressionism in the Swedish literature of Finland has so far, to my knowledge, been made.

  • 2   On impressionism as an ahistorical impulse within Scandinavian literature there have been voices (...)
  • 3   See the anonymous entries Från Skandinavien, Nya Pressen 29 December 1886; Bref från Kristiania, (...)
  • 4   Arne Toftegaard Pedersen has mapped the press reports on Bang’s tour of Finland (2002: 44-45). He (...)
  • 5   See Literära och vetenskapliga samfund i S:t Petersburg: Bref till H:fors Dagblad (Literary and S (...)

2The choice of fixing the term in a historical context, that of the ‘age of impressionism’, in this survey, does not deny the fact that impressionism can also be seen as an ahistorical phenomenon present long before and long after the high point of the impressionist pictorial movement. Glimpses of a similar approach are evident in the journalism taken into account and is also present (at times with what seems to be a provocative intent) within the larger context of Scandinavian literary criticism2. The choice of anchoring the investigation to the end of the century is dependent upon the wish to discover whether writers and critics in Finland shared their Scandinavian colleagues’ awareness of a concept peculiar to their days. In the previous pages we have taken a look at the debate that had proved rather vivacious in Norway and in Denmark and, as we will see from the survey, there were also Swedish voices in the 1880s arguing in favour of an impressionist break-up with the academic tradition. Reports from the Scandinavian literary scene were, in fact, frequent in the Finnish press at the end of the nineteenth century; journalists followed the scandal aroused by Christian Krohg’s novel Albertine in Norway and reported on the foundation and the proceedings of Krohg and Hans Jæger’s review Impressionisten, on the pages of which their singular ‘bohemianʼ interpretation of literary impressionism as subjective naturalism was proclaimed3. The Scandinavian tour of Herman Bang, who openly expressed his dissatisfaction with the shortcomings of naturalism, reached Helsinki and Turku in 1885 and was covered by the press4. In the material taken into consideration, there is one example of a journalist reporting from Russia on a lecture given by Pyotr Gneditch on the subject of impressionism in literature5. Not surprisingly, however, it was mainly through the mediation of Sweden that the idea of an impressionist break with tradition was introduced to the literary circles in Swedish-speaking Finland. Let us turn to some of the protagonists.

5.1. Gustaf af Geijerstam

  • 6   Gustaf af Geijerstam was one of the founders of the student association Verdandi in Sweden. He wo (...)

3One of the Swedish writers capable of phrasing the impressionist experience was Gustaf af Geijerstam (1858-1909)6. The use of the concept of impressionism in his literary criticism has not, to my knowledge, previously been examined. As Hans Lund points out (1993: 49), the Swedish literary historian Nils Erdman labelled Gustaf af Geijerstam’s own writing «impressionist in style», in his study Modern realism (Erdman 1884: 104), in order to highlight Geijerstam’s manner of transmitting «det ögonblickliga intrycket» («the instantaneous impression») as well as his use of the point of view (Ibidem). Lund also mentions Geijerstam’s attack in Ur samtiden (1883; From the Contemporary Age) on the Norwegian writer Kielland, and his dismissal of any work of literature conceived under the wing of Brandes’s slogan in favour of an opposing group of writers such as Bang, Turgenev, Zola, Daudet, and the Goncourt brothers (1993: 52). Geijerstam’s condemnation seems, in spirit, closely related to Hans Jæger’s criticism of the naturalistic writers put forward on the pages of Impressionisten a few years later and is certainly part of a general wave of dissatisfaction with what was seen as the insufficiency of naturalism. Lund, however, also states as a conclusion that Geijerstam did not apply the expression ‘literary impressionism’: «Geijerstam använder emellertid inte själv termen litterär impressionism» (Lund 1993: 52; «Geijerstam himself, however, does not make use of the term literary impressionism»).

4Geijerstam’s literary reviews in the Finnish press of the mid-eighties however contradict Lund’s statement and offer a few examples of the critic’s use and interpretation of the term. Not only does Geijerstam display a sensible understanding of certain essential aspects of what is commonly thought of as the literary methods of impressionism, but he also reveals his appreciation of what he sees as impressionist tendencies in Georg Nordensvan’s and August Strindberg’s writings from this period. Geijerstam raises some interesting points that link his reading of literary impressionism to specific key issues in the critical discussion of the term: not only to the long-established, universal, question of the relationship between literature and painting, but also to the Scandinavian – specifically Norwegian and ‘bohemianʼ – acceptance of literary impressionism as a concept general enough to accommodate subjective, confessional, writing. Let us take a look at Geijerstam’s first article that appeared in 1884, one year after Henrik Jæger had introduced the term in Scandinavian literary criticism.

  • 7   In one of Georg Nordensvan’s articles dedicated to impressionist painting (Nordensvan 1883c) it i (...)
  • 8   The notion of ‘the innocent eyeʼ acquired fame through the use Ruskin made of it in Elements of D (...)

5In the early 1880s, Geijerstam worked as a correspondent for Nya Pressen, a paper encouraging an explicitly modern approach to art and literature (Ekelund 1969: 379). On 3 November 1884, Nya Pressen published Geijerstam’s review of a collection of short stories written by the Swedish art critic Georg Nordensvan7. In the article entitled Skuggspel, tidsbilder af Georg Nordensvan (Shadowplay, Images of an Era by Georg Nordensvan), Geijerstam accounts for Nordensvan’s literary method which, according to the reviewer, owes much to impressionist painting: «impressionism, hvilket ju som bekant eljes egentligen betecknar en särskild riktning inom måleriet är just rätta ordet för att beteckna det skriftsätt, som Nordensvan här användt» (Geijerstam 1884; «impressionism, which, as is known, really refers to a particular current in painting, is the correct word with which to define the literary mode that Nordensvan here has made use of»). Geijerstam subsequently proceeds to explain his personal understanding of pictorial impressionism. His insight into a movement that in the 1880s had finally started to encounter the favour of Swedish art critics (Hedström 2002: 64) captures two concerns central to the theoretical discussion surrounding impressionist representation since its very beginnings: the question of the metonymic mode (the ability to render, with a few essential details only, an entire landscape or a whole object) and the idea of the untutored ‘innocent eyeʼ, that is, the representation of an object as it is seen rather than as it is known to be8. Geijerstam puts forward two examples of subjects familiar to impressionist painting: an object in motion, a moving wheel (quite different from picture book illustrations of a wheel drawn spoke by spoke); a street scene as seen from the fifth floor of a building (a rendering that implies describing people and objects exactly the way they appear from above and at a great distance, not as they would when seen from a street level perspective). These few lines, Geijerstam claims, are sufficient to shed light on the parallel between impressionist painting and Nordensvan’s literary technique, which the critic praises because of its

glimtvis uppfattade naturscenier [sic], snabba rumsinteriörer, samtal, der jämt så mycket är uppfångadt och bibehållet, som behöfs, för att man skall kunna förstå dessa sammanträngda lifsskildringar, der de allmänna dragen tagits med ögonblicksfotografi, och detaljerna suddats bort. (Geijerstam 1884)

natural scenery caught in glimpses, swift room interiors, conversations, from which just as much is reported and maintained as is necessary to make the reader understand these concentrated life stories of which the general traits have been captured through instantaneous photography, and all details wiped out.

6Geijerstam is thus more concerned with a comparison between the two sister arts than with the question of the frontiers between naturalism and impressionism in the history of literature, a topic that, on the subject of literary impressionism, occupied Norwegian writers such as Jæger and Krohg, as we have seen. He concludes by maintaining that Nordensvan has «the sensibility of an impressionist», an excellent technical ability that contributes to the success of the book, and also lists the fortunate moments when his impressionist talent best shines through. However, if Nordensvan’s book formally is seen as a «flyktig framställning af flyktiga drag» («a fleeting representation of fleeting features»), this aspect of the text leads to a certain superficial distance, of which Geijerstam does not approve, between the author and his subject matter, characterized, in the subtitle, as «tidsbilder» («images of an era»).

7The concluding, unfavourable, comment leads to the next example. Almost two years later, Geijerstam reviewed Jäsningstid (Time of Ferment), the second volume of August Strindberg’s autobiographical novel Tjänstekvinnans son (The Son of a Servant), for the same paper (Geijerstam 1886). In this article, Geijerstam sets out to defend Strindberg’s intentions with the novel, that is, «det smärtsamma och upprifvande arbetet att lägga fram för allmänheten hela sitt lif» (Geijerstam 1886; «the painful and excruciating labour of publicly uncovering one’s entire life»). If Strindberg chose to write «utan hänsyn» («with no regard») for «sina egna privata förhållanden» («his own private circumstances»), his unveiling of personal and «intima skildringar» («intimate accounts») is, according to Geijerstam, done with a purpose, namely one that «bidrager att kasta ljus öfver och lära oss förstå den tid som skildras och den författare, som skrifvit dem» («contributes to shining a light on and making us come to terms with the epoch that is being described and with the man behind these descriptions»).

  • 9   The nine commandments of the Bohème were published in Impressionisten 8, February 1889. Jæger ant (...)

8His words seem to endorse the artistic ground on which Hans Jæger’s literary programme stood. As we have seen, Jæger had outlined his literary theory in the foreword to Fra Kristiania-Bohêmen published in 1885, and further developed his initiative, e.g., in the article entitled Vor Literatur. Geijerstam thus both seems to echo and to foreshadow Jæger’s arguments and Krohg’s reading of the bohemian’s autobiographical project in impressionist terms: ‘writing the self’ is not only a method of self-analysis but, in Krohg’s opinion, primarily a means of allowing the contemporary readership to come to terms with its own epoch by piecing together extreme and intimate portraits of the most representative children of their time (Krohg 1995: 84). Although Geijerstam’s criticism seems to subscribe to what was to become the first commandment of the Norwegian Bohème «Du skal skrive dit liv» («You shall write your own life»)9, in order to anticipate the end of an era that had seen art and literature as a forum for debating problems, he does not, like the bohemians, adapt the concept of impressionism to accommodate confessional literature. As he goes on to define Strindberg as an impressionist, he grounds his opinion foremost in stylistic parameters. «Som författare» («as a writer»), Geijerstam argues, Strindberg is an impressionist in the same metonymic mode as Nordensvan: in just a few swift and essential lines, he presents the reader with a vivid scene. Geijerstam might not make a straightforward case for identifying subjective writing with impressionism, but he does show his appreciation for a novel that (due to the autobiographical genre to which it belongs) shortens the distance between author and subject matter – a relationship that the critic had found fragile in Nordensvan’s collection of short stories. Geijerstam does not hesitate to present himself as an apostle of the impressionist mode in art and in literature that Strindberg, in his eyes, represents: «Oförståndet tadlar här liksom inom måleriet detta förfaringssätt och kallar det ‘skef’ [sic]. Försök att ‘skefva’ på det sättet! Notabene så att det blir någon effekt» («Ignorance disregards here [in the field of literature] as well as in painting this practice and calls it ‘distorted’. Try to ‘distort’ in this manner! Nota bene, in order to achieve an effect»).

5.2. Impressionism in the air

9Geijerstam’s return to the idea of ‘the innocent eye’ in order to explain the impressionist technique is yet another addition to the wide variety of interpretations of a concept that had made its way into Scandinavian literature and literary criticism starting from 1883 and then swept through the decade as a literary mode reduced to different formulas. Such formulas include, as we have begun to see, concentrating on the total impression rather than on the mass of details (Henrik Jæger); the fleeting moment of a reality that is a ‘becoming’, not a fixed ‘state’ (Nils Erdman); the subjective impression rather than an attempt at an objective look (Christian Krohg). When the phenomenon was discussed in the Finnish press in the second half of the 1880s, impressionism, mediated through the literature of Sweden, came to be pictured as a new school that had made a definite break with academic tradition and Brandesian naturalism. On 3 July 1886, Östra Finland published an article entitled Några litterära förhållanden (Some Literary Circumstances), in which an anonymous journalist aimed to describe opinions and trends in contemporary Swedish literature. In Sweden, the article states, a number of young talented people (artists, poets, and writers) has broken with the academic tradition, its rules and ideals, and founded a new literary school that has «ställt upp impressionismen och naturalismen som nya gudar» («established impressionism and naturalism as new gods»). The author of the article does not mention any names, but suggests that the Swedish-speaking writers in Finland should look to the success of the new Swedish school as a model. «Den något ensidiga problemdiktningen och naturalismen» («the somewhat monothematic problem-literature and naturalism») found in Ibsen and his imitators are seen as losing ground. The Swedish readers now desire a new poetry that warms the heart, as well as ‘moral’ books. Although the Finnish situation lags behind these developments, the article notes that a radical new trend, impressionism, is in the air, but has yet to defeat the local academic tradition:

Man önskar något, som åter kan tala till känslan, likasom de gamle gjorde, men i den form, som detta nu åstundas, har det ännu ej kommit. De flesta göra ej klart för sig detta förhållande, men det ligger tydligen i luften samt observeras allrabäst inom teatern och målarkonsten. Endast det allrabästa och det mer moderata i den moderna genren slår an. Impressionismen vinner ingen framgång. Akademin är ej ännu besegrad. (1886 Några litterära)

We are longing for something capable of talking to the senses once again, just like it was done in the old days, but the form that we are yearning for is yet to come. Most of us are not aware of it happening, but it is clearly in the air and can best be observed within drama and painting. Only the very best and the more moderate in the modern genre are being appreciated. Impressionism is not winning any favours. The academy is yet to be defeated.

  • 10   The art and literary historian Carl Gustaf Estlander (1834-1910), founder and editor-in-chief of (...)

10When the 1880s gave way to the 1890s, the Finnish critics could look back at the previous decade and observe the changes that had taken place in naturalism. On 6 December 1891, Hufvudstadsbladet reported on the annual reunion of the newly founded (1885) Svenska Litteratursällskapet (The Swedish Literary Society), opened by chairman C.G. Estlander’s speech, which was published the same day in Nya Pressen, the journal of which Estlander was co-founder10. In the speech (1891 Svenska litteratursällskapets möte), Estlander illustrates his view of the development that Finnish literature had undergone in the nineteenth century, expressing his, by no means original, opinion that the literature in Finland had fallen into an abyss after the great era of the national poet J.L. Runeberg, from which it would not arise until the 1880s. Estlander sees the 1880s as an opening-up of a new era with a new atmosphere and a different outlook dependent on naturalism and impressionism:

  • 11   The following year, 1892, at the annual meeting of Finska Konstföreningen (The Finnish Society of (...)

Tidsstämningen är ny, åskådningen likaså. Werklighet, natursanning blir den nya lösen och man fordrar af skalden att han återgifver denna werklighet omedelbart. Naturalismen och impressionismen ha funnit väg till oss och eröfrat dikten. […] Wid bedömandet af den nya riktningen bör man komma ihåg, att om idéerna äro ewiga, idealerna dö med sin tid och att man ej kan återwända till det gamla.11 (1891 Svenska litteratursällskapets möte)

The atmosphere is new, and so is the outlook. Reality, truthfulness to nature, is the new countersign and the poet is requested to reproduce this reality instantaneously. Naturalism and impressionism have made their way to us and conquered poetry. […] When judging the new movement one will have to remember that, although the ideas may be eternal, the ideals will disappear with their epoch and that no return to the old is possible.

  • 12   The same way of uniting realism, naturalism, and impressionism into a singular trend with the com (...)

11On the same occasion, Svenska Litteratursällskapet awarded its literary prize to K.A. Tavaststjerna as a worthy representative of the new trends in literature. It is worth noticing that there is nothing in Estlander’s speech that suggests an opposition between naturalism and impressionism. In his view, the two movements rather seem to coexist peacefully, the latter an outgrowth of the former, sharing the same interest for what is described as an accurate and instantaneous reproduction of reality12.

  • 13   On impressionism and Finland see Reitala 1967, Hintze 1942-44, as well as Bonsdorff 2002.
  • 14   In a letter to Helsingfors Dagblad, 18 February 1870 (Lindholm 1870), Lindholm describes the birt (...)
  • 15   Bonsdorff (2002: 263) mentions Albert Edelfelt, Axel Gallén, Eero Järnefelt, Torsten Wasastjerna, (...)

12It is perhaps not surprising that the Swedish press of Finland should offer few and vague contributions to a debate that elsewhere had proved vital, especially through the polemics involving Erik Skram and Herman Bang on the pages of Tilskueren in 1890. With the exception of Geijerstam, who, in his reviews published in Finland, had made an attempt to clarify the relation between literary impressionism and the visual arts, and sought to describe the technique of two Swedish writers (Nordensvan and Strindberg) that he considered true impressionists, these latter contributors deal with (1) the need in Finland to imitate the ‘impressionist’ break with tradition, said to be present on the Swedish literary scene, and (2) the tendency of impressionism alongside naturalism to offer a more ‘truthful’ reproduction of reality. If it is correct to assume that the writers’ attempt to adopt impressionism into literature as a potent modern force must have been shaped, to a certain extent, by their knowledge of the pictorial experience, we must bear in mind that in Finland, during the 1880s, there was a less robust awareness of impressionism than in the other Scandinavian countries13. Although the first to mention the impressionists by name in the Nordic press was a Finnish art student, Bernt Lindholm14, very few of the Finnish painters who came into contact with the new movement in Paris in the 1870s and 1880s put the impressionist theories into practice15. The reception of French impressionism seems to have been unenthusiastic, slow, and prevalently negative all through the years leading up to the first Finnish exhibition of French impressionists and neo-impressionists in 1901. The show, hosted at the Ateneum, presented works by Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, and Sisley. Bonsdorff comments that although many of the works exhibited were up to twenty years old, they were still perceived as a foreign novelty by the Finnish spectators, and the show was far from a success (Bonsdorff 2002: 269) much in the same way as Ateneum’s 1904 exhibition of French and Belgian art, which included, among others, Monet, Degas, Renoir, and Signac.

  • 16   See Tikkanen 1904a, 1904b; Deshairs 1904a, 1904b, 1904c.

13This second exhibition, however, encountered the favourable response of the art critic J.J. Tikkanen and brought the review Euterpe to publish three essays on the history and theory of impressionism written by the French critic Léon Deshairs16. Impressionism’s long and winding road toward winning the Finnish art public’s appreciation may have retarded the acceptance of the trend as a positive and evolutionary impulse in literature, and probably influenced the reception of literary impressionism mainly in negative terms. Furthermore, the newly awoken interest was soon broken by the general enthusiasm for national romanticism.

14Thus, literary criticism that resorts to the definition in the Finnish press from the mid-eighties to the first decade of the twentieth century most often used impressionism as stigma. What is described as the impressionistic method is a technique judged too hasty, too superficial, and a much too nervous approach to writing to appeal especially to literary critics of an earlier generation, used to more traditional narrative techniques and to themes of national interest. Let us now take a look at some significant examples of impressionism as stigma, and see what authors were banished on the grounds of being ‘impressionist’ writers.

5.3. Impressionism as stigma

15In Nya Pressen, 23 October 1887, Arvid af Schultén reviewed Strindberg’s drama Fadren (The Father) and had the following to say about the dramatist’s depiction of reality:

Strindberg, som ibland roar sig med att uppträda som den mest själfsvåldiga impressionist, ofta nog lägger sina tillfälliga stämningar in i den omgifvande värkligheten, som han sedan målar med anspråk på att återge den, sådan den är. (Schultén 1887)

Strindberg, who at times enjoys himself by behaving as an impressionist taking the greatest liberties, often applies his own temporary moods to the surrounding reality, which he subsequently proceeds to depict with the pretence of reproducing it exactly the way it is.

16Strindberg is thus ‘guilty’ of distorting the principles of impressionist perception almost to the point of becoming an expressionist who transmits his own moods to the milieu before reproducing it. Schultén speaks of «Strindbergs alt [sic] skarpare framträdande subjektivitet» («Strindberg’s ever more apparent subjectivity»): substituting naturalistic objectivity with the personal impression was, as we have seen, present in the ‘bohemian’ understanding of impressionism as modern subjective writing.

17In Hufvudstadsbladet, 14 December 1895, the signature ‘Ar.’ labels Jonatan Reuter’s collection of short stories Lovart och lä: bilder och stämningar (Windward and Sheltered: Images and Moods) «en impressionistisk produktion» (‘Ar’ 1895; «an impressionist production»). In this case the adjective ‘impressionist’ stands for a superficial subject choice and a much too hasty and sketchy manner of «throwing down on paper» the author’s own «impressions», but still recalls the impressionist artists’ desire to deliver images of modern life with all its rapid movements and fleeting moments in a manner that did imply a fast execution. This idea had been expressed by Baudelaire in Le Peintre de la vie moderne (1863; The Painter of Modern Life): «il y a dans la vie triviale, dans la métamorphose journalière des choses extérieures, un mouvement rapide qui commande à l’artiste une égale vélocité d’exécution» («there is in everyday life, in the daily metamorphosis of externalities, a rapid movement that requires of the artist an equal velocity of execution»). The need to suit the word to the action is in this case however not captured by the literary critic, who is unable to judge the method as anything but shallow and careless.

18There are several other examples that illustrate the general feeling that impressionism was a style of exaggeration and neglect. Gustaf Cygnaeus, writer and editor of Åbo Tidning, wrote on 16 June 1900 (under the signature of ‘G.C.’) of the Dutch writer Louis Couperus’s novel Under vänskapens ok (Footsteps of Fate, original title, Noodlot) that it was a work which wished to stay clear of «impressionismens öfverdrifter» («the exaggerations of impressionism»). A few months earlier, on 24 February 1900, Hufvudstadsbladet had reviewed Brausewetter’s work Finska författarsilhouetter (Silhouettes of Finnish Authors) and reported that the author had found Mikael Lybeck an «impressionist» and therefore «unsatisfying» as a writer. On 3 February 1901, the same paper made a mention of Oscar Levertin’s review (published in the Swedish paper Dagens Nyheter) of Lybeck’s novel Den starkare (The Stronger) and quoted the following words written by the renowned Swedish critic: «den som läst hans med en orolig och obehärskad impressionism berättade noveller, väntade knappast af hans hand ett värk […] som denna […] roman» (1901 Literatur, konst; «the one who has read his short stories, told with a nervous and uncontrolled impressionism, would hardly have expected […] a work like this novel to be written by him»). Fritt Folk, 12 January 1907, finally comments on Adolf Paul’s drama Djävulskyrkan (The Devil’s Church) and goes back to the idea of impressionism as a rapid and rough subjectivism:

Som författare är och förblir han impressionist, skriver ned sina infall i rasande fart, utan vidare kritiskt betänkande. På ingivelsen tror han vida mer än på självkritiken, som kanhända ofta vil blanda sig i saken, och allra minst bryr han sig om att ställa sig utom verket för att försöka se på det med den utomståendes ögon. Därför blottställer han sig mer än de flesta. (‘Se’ 1907)

As a writer he is and remains an impressionist, annotating his whims in a fury without further critical consideration. He believes more in instinct than in self-criticism, which often, perhaps, might want to interfere, and he does not even bother to step outside his own creation in an attempt to observe it with the eyes of an outsider. This is why he lays himself bare more than most.

19Superficiality, absurdity, and insubstantiality were qualities with which Louis Leroy had deliberately charged the term impressionnisme when he coined the word in 1874 after having seen Monet’s 1872 painting Impression, soleil levant (Impression, Rising Sun). These few examples from the Finnish press are significant and, I think, sufficient to illustrate how the label of ‘literary impressionism’ continued to be used to convey stigma long after its painterly counterpart had lost the association with the notion of absurdity. The words with which Adolf Paul, as late as 1907, is ‘disdained’ as an impressionist are highly reminiscent of the comments that the Swedish art critics reserved for the much too radical French impressionists in the 1870s (see Hedström 2002: 50-51). But then again, as we have seen, it was not until the Helsinki exhibition in 1904 that the impressionists were received somewhat positively in Finland.

5.4. Mikael Lybeck, k.a. Tavaststjerna

20Even though these commentaries for the most part feel as ‘impressionistic’ (in the sense of ‘elusive’ and ‘superficial’) as the impressionism that they are trying to elucidate, there were a few exceptions (mainly quotations from Swedish papers) that went as far as attempting a description of the technique involved in the impressionist rendering of reality. Nya Pressen, 18 March 1894, under the headline ‘Literatur o konst’: Svenskt omdöme om finska författares böcker (‘Literature and Art’: Swedish Opinions on Books by Finnish Authors) cites a review dedicated to the above-mentioned Mikael Lybeck that had appeared in the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet the same month, signed ‘–pt–’. The journalist reports that Lybeck’s novel Allas vår Margit (Our Dear Margit) is seen as a work stylistically close to Herman Bang’s Tine (1889), and quotes from the Swedish article:

Den tillhör den impressionistiska riktningen, skildrar väsentligen blott hvad man ser och hör, utan att närmare redogöra för de uppträdande personligheternas förhållanden, motiv eller karaktärer eller lägga dessa fram i och genom handlingarne. […] Ett dylikt stilla småstadslif, som här förekommer, egnar sig mindre än något annat för impressionistisk skildring. Det skall vara mera händelserika, rörliga och lifliga förhållanden, som skola kunna uppehålla en skildring af detta slag. Det enda vi förut ega i den nordiska literaturen, som ej är misslyckad, ehuru äfven den kan gifva anledning till olika omdömen är Herman Bangs Trine [sic], men denna har också just till hufvudmotiv de upprörda dagarna vid Dybböls fall och Als’ eröfring. (1894 ’Literatur o konst’)

It belongs to the impressionistic movement and reproduces primarily only what one sees and hears, without accounting in detail for the relationships among the characters involved, their motives or personalities, which are instead exposed in and through their actions. […] The quiet small-town life that we are presented with is much less suitable for an impressionist rendering than anything else. What we need to sustain this kind of story-telling are dynamic, animated and lively conditions. The only successful example in Nordic literature of such a description is Herman Bang’s Tine on which there are many opinions; this novel, however, still has as its main motif the savage days before the fall of Dybbøl and the conquest of Als.

  • 17   Cf., «Den konstnärliga metodens olämplighet för ämnet och det ofta ytterst flyktiga skisserandet (...)

21Lybeck’s impressionist technique is only partly accomplished according to the reviewer. In depicting the protagonist Margit, Lybeck renounces his objective stance and gives the reader access to her interiority. This exception to the rule is, however, not the true reason for the critic’s dismissal of the novel, which instead is due to what is felt as Lybeck’s incapacity to match technique with subject matter and to a certain fleeting sketchiness in the execution that encumbers the writer’s talent17.

22Herman Bang, sometimes regarded as the ‘only’ Scandinavian impressionist, appears a few years later side by side with Mikael Lybeck as Hufvudstadsbladet, 8 December 1900, refers the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter’s opinion of Lybeck’s novel Den starkare. The Swedish reviewer had been astonished to find that the somewhat obsolete impressionism was still producing works of literature, though he finds Lybeck’s impressionism «less tiring» than the one of his master, Bang:

Det på en gång lugnt och nervöst impressionistiska framställningssättet […] värkar som en hälsning från tio år tillbaka, ett dylikt skrifsätt är ej modernt nu i dag, men det hindrar inte att det visar sig vara lifligt målande, och det blir här ej tröttande, som det onekligen varit hos en och annan af denna stils typiska företrädare, Herman Bang till exempel. (1900 Om Mikael Lybecks)

The calm and at the same time nervous impressionist rendering […] comes across as a souvenir from ten years ago; this way of writing is no longer modern today, but that does not stop it from being lively and evocative, and in this case it does not become tiring, which undeniably has been the case in some of the typical representatives of the style, as for example Herman Bang.

23This reference to Herman Bang adds yet another ingredient to the soup of conceptual uncertainty which had been boiling since the 1880s when the Scandinavian critics first tried to trace the essence of literary impressionism. As we have seen, Herman Bang’s approach to the subject of impressionism had initiated a discussion that was pushing the interpretation of literary impressionism closer to the theatre stage. Bang himself (1908: 678), would go as far as to suggest that the definition ‘the impressionist novel’ be replaced by the Danish expression den fremstillede Roman («the scenic novel») which, according to him, had the advantage of being less hazy and, alas, ‘impressionistic’. This new expression, which Bang considered of immediate comprehension, communicated a technique that involved presenting characters, actions, and environments dramatically. What is known about the universe of the novel would emerge primarily from how it appeared to the eye and from the way characters acted and spoke. However, this idea of denying the reader access to the minds of the characters and limiting description to the observable, are elements of the impressionist mode that have given critics yet another reason to speak of impressionism in terms of a stigma. The American scholar James Nagel observes that it is precisely these limitations that have made impressionist fiction seem shallow and superficial (1980: 27). But Nagel also makes it clear that adopting and respecting a literary method should not in itself be mistaken for a flaw in the art of telling a story:

In short, to present characters without prior knowledge, and on the basis of dramatic revelation, is to sharply limit the depth of all but the major figures. This practice, however, does not represent a conceptual weakness so much as an adherence to restricted narrative modes. (Nagel 1980: 116)

24In my survey of the literary criticism in the newspaper press, K.A. Tavaststjerna is the last example of an author whose work is referred to as impressionist. Furthermore, Tavaststjerna is also a writer with an interest in art. In a letter from Paris (Bref från Paris) published under the pseudonym ‘stst’ in Nya Pressen, 19 February 1884 (Tavaststjerna 1884) a year after the death of Manet (an event that led to the dispersal of the group of impressionist painters), Tavaststjerna reviews the retrospective at L’École des Beaux Arts dedicated to this painter. Here, Tavaststjerna demonstrates his awareness of the contemporary painters’ intense use of the blue shadow, a detail that was central to the impressionist perception of colours. The portrayal of the art critics’ alarm is almost caricatural, as Tavaststjerna mentions how those «blå dagrar få kritikerna att visa sina maskätna hörntänder och publiken ropar ‘mera natur, mera natur!» (Tavaststjerna 1884: «blue shadows make the critics show their worm-eaten canines and the public shout ‘more nature, more nature!’»). Although he does not mention impressionism, the writer sees Paris as the meeting point for modern realism and idealism.

25Hans Lund (1993: 58) claims that Tavaststjerna found the literary equivalent to pictorial impressionism in the new idealism of the 1890s, an opinion he shared with the Norwegian Arne Garborg and one that comes forth in Tavaststjerna’s short story Impressionisten (Tavaststjerna 1892; The Impressionist), published in the collection of short stories entitled Unga år (Youth). Many reviewers, among them Ellen Key (Key 1898) and Gustaf af Geijerstam, came to consider Unga år as his best work. In April 1894, Geijerstam travelled to Helsinki and St. Petersburg, presenting a series of lectures on literature to the Finnish audience. When he spoke on Tavaststjerna on 6 April 1894 in Helsinki and 17 April 1894 in St. Petersburg (1894 ’Literatur o konst’; 1894 åbo Tidning 14 February) he attempted to demonstrate how Tavaststjerna’s short stories were aesthetically opposed to the triteness and triviality that had dominated the literature of the 1880s. According to the journalist who reviewed his speech in Helsinki, Geijerstam quoted heavily from the short story entitled Impressionisten.

  • 18   ‘W.S.’ (1892) compares Tavaststjerna’s character who possesses «en känslighet, så sjukligt öfverr (...)

26The thematic centre of Impressionisten lies in the subjective ability to see. It recounts the story of a man whose capacity for reading the surface is extremely well developed. The protagonist has a mature sensibility for judgments based on impressions, which is almost supernatural. The short story caused several critics, such as Werner Söderhjelm and Gustaf Chygnaeus, to speak of a modern mysticism that recalled Ola Hansson18. If the title implies that this extreme confidence in subjective perception stems from the impressionist experience, there are, on the other hand, other voices that focus on aspects of Tavaststjerna’s writing that seem to emanate not so much from the perceptional and phenomenological problems central to the impressionists’ exploration, as from its attention to light and colour and attempts to capture a moment of a shifting reality. In the Kotka notis- och annonsblad, 29 September 1892, ‘W-t’ thus mentions the «flyktiga, veka stämningar» («fleeting, vague moods») that dominate Unga år, and describes the short story Vinden vaknar (The Wind Rises) as «en situationsbild, en ögonblicksfotografi af ett sommarlandskap med solljus, barrdoft och tvänne unga mänskobarn […]. Man tycker sig se solljuset, insupa doften från barr och linnen och känna med de unga» («an instant picture, a snapshot of a summer landscape with sunlight, the perfume of pine trees and two youngsters […]. One has the feeling of seeing the sunshine, breathing the perfume of pine trees and linen and sharing the feelings of the young»).

27After Tavaststjerna’s death in 1898, ‘Hj. Ö’ reviewed the posthumous collection of short stories Efter kvällsbrisen (After the Evening Breeze) in Hufvudstadsbladet, 17 May 1899, and spoke of a man who became a poet in the years when «realism and impressionism dominated the arts and taught us to love the sparkling richness of colours that surround us». «Det finnes mycket af målaren-impressionisten hos Tavaststjerna» (‘Hj. Ö’ 1899; «There is a lot of the painter-impressionist in Tavaststjerna»), the reviewer writes, likening Tavaststjerna’s stories set in Italy to «akvareller af impressionismens yttersta mästare» («watercolours of the greatest impressionist masters»).

5.5. Finsk tidskrift

28I would like to conclude this survey of criticism with a brief examination on the use of the term in the journal Finsk tidskrift during the same period. This examination will add yet another two names to the list of Swedish-speaking writers in Finland concerned with literary impressionism: Helena Westermarck (1857-1938) and Gerda von Mickwitz (1862-1948). Furthermore, the name of painter and writer Westermarck elicits yet another way of looking at impressionism in literature, namely as a prose that shares the impressionist painters’ interest in modern, urban, subjects such as the Parisian street view seen from above (as in Geijerstam’s previously mentioned example) as well as some of the principles of representation involved in the rendering of these subjects, such as framing and point of view.

29Finsk tidskrift, founded in 1875, is the earliest example of a review dealing with cultural issues that is still being published in Scandinavia. Erik Ekelund deems its role as a transmitter of literary impulses important, but also states that its general attitude in cultural matters was rather conservative (1969: 380). However, this conservative trait is not evident in the art criticism that turned the readers’ attention to impressionism. Apart from Albert Edelfelt’s reportage from Paris in 1877, in which the Finnish painter condemns the impressionist exhibition of the year as «an artistic madhouse» (Edelfelt 1877: 343), Finsk tidskrift primarily relied on the expertise that the art critic Georg Nordensvan dispensed in his letters from Sweden up until 1896. Although Nordensvan in 1883 felt the need to distinguish the radical impressionists as noxious novelty-makers with «vämjeligt råa framställningssätt» (Nordensvan 1883b: 419, 1883c: 18; «horribly crude rendering») from the moderate representatives of the school, such as the Norwegian Werenskiold and the Italian De Nittis, in 1885, on the other hand, he wrote a straightforward defence of «pariserskolan». These Swedish painters, based in Paris and strongly influenced by impressionism (among others Krouthén, Kindborg, Liljefors, and Kreuger) are presented as a young force capable of bringing sanity and healthy ideas into contemporary art (Nordensvan 1885: 75, 78). In his appraisal of Konstnärsförbundet’s 1890 exhibition in Stockholm, where the most recent efforts of the Swedish plein air and impressionist painters were on show, Nordensvan concludes that «individualism» would be a more appropriate definition than «impressionism» (1890: 481).

30In the following issue of the Finsk tidskrift, the editor of the journal, C.G. Estlander, expressed an opinion which is both in favour of the impressionist experiment and a confirmation of the late acceptance of impressionism in Scandinavia. In a review of Gustaf af Geijerstam’s collection of short stories entitled Fattigt folk (Poor People II) from 1889, he points out the story Utan pängar (Moneyless), that sees its painter-protagonist living from hand to mouth until he finally manages to sell a painting. Estlander comments: «troligen går det honom sedan mycket bra, impressionist som han är» (1890: 62; «being an impressionist, he will likely become quite successful later on»).

  • 19   See Westermarck 1884a, 1884b, 1884c, 1892, 1893.
  • 20   The concept of art and literature as image and expression of the times brings us back to Christia (...)

31C.G. Estlander also helped introduce the Finnish artist Helena Westermarck, his friend and collaborator, as an interesting case of a Doppeltbegabung on the pages of Finsk tidskrift. As a painter Westermarck was trained in Helsinki and Paris, and the Parisian art and literary scene serves as the backdrop for the articles she wrote for Finsk tidskrift in the 1880s19. Ur studieboken, berättelser och utkast (From the Sketchbook, Stories and Drafts) was her literary debut in 1890. It may be assumed that the choice of title, which includes the word utkast «sketch, draft» reveals a writer both affected by the dialectics of word and image as well as her wish to adhere to one of the literary modes of the day, i.e., the unfinished fragment. However, it is clear that Westermarck draws on her personal experience of visual rendering when elaborating some of the short stories that make up the collection. Estlander reviewed positively both the first and the second volume of Westermarck’s literary sketches by stressing the way her very modern technique and capacity for observation depended upon her painter’s eye (Estlander 1891: 57, 59). Estlander does not explicitly refer to the impressionist experience, but when mentioning the short stories Aftonstämning (Evening Mood) and I marginalen af en museikatalog (In the Margin of a Museum Catalogue) he comments on the former as an account of «vårluften och lifvet på den trånga gatan i Paris, sådan man ser den från femte våningens vindskupa» (1891: 58; «the spring air and life in a narrow Parisian street, as seen from the small attic window on the fifth floor») and on the latter as an example illustrating his opinion that the art of any age has its excellence and its appropriateness as long as it interprets the spirit of its own age (1891: 57-60)20.

  • 21   The signature ‘Scylla och Charybdis’ also commented on Westermarck’s acquaintance with impression (...)

32It must be added that the true subject of Westermarck’s I marginalen af en museikatalog (Westermarck 1890b), set in the Uffizi museum in Florence, is the defence of the Danish impressionist and plein air painter Peder Severin Krøyer (1851-1909). With reference to Aftonstämning (Westermarck 1890a), I will argue in section II of the present work that this short story should be considered as an example of the way in which literary impressionism can be explained as directly influenced by painting. Here, Westermarck puts a painterly theme which had become a leitmotif in impressionist art by the time Westermarck took up her art studies in Paris, i.e., the street scene from a bird’s-eye view, into words, and ponders upon air, atmosphere, and light, though especially on the effects of light on objects more than on the light itself21. The idea of choosing a subject from ‘impressionist Parisʼ can also be seen as a case of translating painterly motifs into literature that somehow reverses the efforts of the impressionists to turn modern painting away from literature and storytelling, which was partly the reason for its distinction from academic painting with its stress on the anecdote and on historical subjects.

  • 22   Loti’s novel is the main point of interest in Richard M. Berrong’s book discussing how Monet’s im (...)
  • 23   In his Pariser-krönika (1890; Parisian Chronicle), Kaufman recognized the impressionists as one o (...)

33Closely linked to this way of translating painting into literature is the Danish critic Richard Kaufman’s report from the French literary scene, in which he records the writers’ manner of adopting landscape description in a way reminiscent of the paysagistes. Through the choice of their subjects, Kaufman (1886: 160) defines Pierre Loti’s Pêcheur d’Islande (An Iceland Fisherman) and Ferdinand Fabre’s Monsieur Jean as «romans de plein air» («plein air novels»)22. It can also be added that the epithet of «Frilufts-stämningsförfattare», indicating the writer’s capacity to render plein air atmospheres, recurs in the Finsk tidskrift (‘H.R.’ 1901) with reference to Jonatan Reuter, one of the writers identified with the impressionist mode by the literary criticism in the previously examined press reviews23.

34A final attempt by the critics to pin down literary impressionism was evoked by Gerda von Mickwitz’s debut Solglöd och andra skizzer (Mickwitz 1885; Sunglow and Other Sketches). Mickwitz’s collection of short stories was received by the critics as stylistically and thematically heavily dependent upon the modes of J.P. Jacobsen and Herman Bang (cf., ‘B.E.’ 1886). This reference to the Danish impressionists is confirmed by Arne Toftegaard Pedersen’s distinction of three subgenres within the short story writing in the Finnish 1880s, according to which the scholar identifies the representatives of «den impressionistiske, dekadente novelle» (2002: 60; «the impressionist, decadent short story») precisely with von Mickwitz’s debut, as well as with two of the writers previously connected with the impressionist mode, namely K.A. Tavaststjerna (early works) and Mikael Lybeck (the two short stories Kväfd [Suffocated, 1884] and Fragment [1885]). It is worth noticing that the signature ‘-r’ comments on «den impressionistiska stämningskärleken» (1886: 60; «the impressionist love for moods») that seems to permeate this latter story.

35The critical category of literary impressionism suggested and hinted at in various ways in the Finnish press from the early 1880s onwards was straightforwardly adopted as a term in 1907, when Irene Leopold discussed Herman Bang’s novel De uden Fædreland (The Ones without Home Country) in Finsk tidskrift. Leopold charges the expression with the meaning that was specific to Bang himself, who spoke of the impressionist novel as a piece of work that drew close to drama and that suppressed, as far as possibile, the presence of the narrator in favour of the interplay between characters and reader. The essence of literary impressionism is, according to Leopold, the act of perceiving impressions, not only visual but also acoustic. When Bang, in his novels, registers conversations at a dinner table paying attention to all the possible interferences that are likely to occur in any authentic dialogue he thus achieves the effect of turning impressionism into a realism as close to reality as it can get:

Något mera talangfullt och för manéret typiskt än denna brokigt gnistrande dinerkonversation har den litterära impressionismen ej att uppvisa, åtminstone ej i dessa dimensioner, där ett tjog individer karakteriseras af de korta replikerna under sekundernas flygande prestissimo. (Leopold 1907: 412)

Something more talented and so typical of the mode as this colourfully sparkling dinner conversation has never been portrayed by literary impressionism, at least not in these dimensions, where some twenty individuals are characterized by the brief lines in the flying prestissimo of seconds.

5.6. Concluding remarks

36Whether the Finland-Swedish writers labelled impressionists agreed with the views and opinions of the critics on their work remains to be discovered. The Scandinavian writers connected with the movement, first and foremost Herman Bang (who rarely used the term and ultimately came to consider it an incomprehensible foreign idiom) did not invent the definition to characterize their own works. If literary impressionism more than anything seems to be «une affaire de critiques» (Pouzet-Duzer 2008: 124; «purely a matter for critics»), it is interesting to note that this category, created by Brunetière and his fellow critics in the late nineteenth century, was often looked upon as suspicious – often by the very same critics that made use of the term, and most certainly by their twentieth-century followers. This survey has tried to offer insights into the different literary expressions commonly collected under the rubric ‘impressionism’ and highlight the diverse talents in Swedish literature critically identified as the major representatives of impressionist prose. As to the former aim, the examples cited here clearly demonstrate how the term was used with various nuances by literary critics within a period of approximately thirty years. A variety of concerns, styles, and techniques gather under the heading of literary impressionism, some of which, but not all, were shaped by the pictorial experience that was slow to win acceptance in Finland, a fact that certainly helps to explain the hostility the term encountered. Thanks to the mediation of Geijerstam, who introduced it into the critical discourse in 1884, however, the Finnish readers were acquainted rather early, at least from a Scandinavian point of view, with the idea of impressionism in literature.

37One sometimes encounters the opinion that the term ‘literary impressionism’ should be dropped from the critical vocabulary since no single interpretative formula of a concept hosting such a wide range of experiments can be considered valid. Still, although the idea of literary impressionism encompasses, as we have seen, a great critical range, the materials taken into account for this section present a number of features common to most international dicussions of this phenomenon. In short, the keys to understanding impressionism in literature offered by the literary criticism in Finland, within what can reasonably be considered the historical period of impressionism, are: (1) metonymic descriptions that avoid cataloguing to concentrate, instead, on a set of representative details; (2) a prose that keeps to the sketch and the fragment to the point of abandoning the plot, while favouring the passing mood over any permanent condition; (3) a subjective naturalism, stemming from the idea that the subjective impressions are the only reliable data; (4) a writing bearing resemblance to the themes, the framing, and oblique angle of vision in impressionist painting, as in the works of writers most likely acquainted with the major works of the impressionists (plein air prose, scenes from ‘impressionist Paris’, descriptions of shifting light, and the play of reflections that suggest a mood or an atmosphere); (5) texts that draw on Bang’s unique impressionism that demanded its own terminology and implied, among other things, the use of an impassive narrator that did not intrude into the impressions of the characters and of certain stylistic devices and relied on the senses as the only source of information; and finally, (6) the compositional horror that derives from a rapid and rough sketching and a seemingly careless perception of reality. Wylie Sypher’s considerations on the impressionist experiment in art and literature eloquently sum up my sensation that there is not so much a need for a redefinition of the term ‘literary impressionism’ as for an acceptance of the various ways in which the concept can be interpreted:

It is true that many of the so-called impressionist painters often used the same brushwork and color and subjects; yet they differed from each other in almost every other way. If Manet is an impressionist, what are we to call Renoir? If Renoir is an impressionist, where shall we place Degas? What are we to think of Cézanne, who is – and is not – to be identified with the group? Does Bazille really belong? [...] These interactions must shake our confidence in any single definition of impressionism, which is rightly called multiple. No matter what one says of the impressionists, it is never entirely trustworthy. They have no method – only methods. (Sypher 1960: 170)


1   Investigation of literary criticism in the Finnish newspapers has been done with the help of the digital collections of the Historical Newspaper Library, available at Accessed 7 February 2018..

2   On impressionism as an ahistorical impulse within Scandinavian literature there have been voices arguing that C.M. Bellman (1740-95) should be seen as a forerunner of impressionism. To remain within the sources that have been investigated for this study, an anonymous author writing for the Finnish newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet (4 July 1902) speaks of Bellman’s «underbara impressionism, som i poesin upptäckte friluftsmåleriet mer än hundra år tidigare än vår konsts opponenter!» («wonderful impressionism, that discovered plein air- painting in poetry more than a hundred years before the opponents in our art!»). In a review of Ola Hansson’s Kåserier i mystik (Hufvudstadsbladet 12 December 1897; Mystic Causeries), the signature ‘O-o’ mentions Hansson’s discussion of different artistic suggestions in which he claims that the «impressionist-suggestion» was the basis for the writings of Kleist, Sterne, Pie, Almqvist, and Stagnelius (‘O-o’ 1897). See also Finn S. Larsen’s quibbling article (Larsen 1973) about impressionism and Leonora Christina’s Jammers Minde (Memories of Woe). The same situation is somehow present in art criticism. Leif Østby suggests that we consider the authors of petroglyphs as the earliest impressionists as their art is «øyets, ikke tankens» (1966: 14; «of the eye, not of the mind»).

3   See the anonymous entries Från Skandinavien, Nya Pressen 29 December 1886; Bref från Kristiania, Finland 5 January 1887 and De Skandinaviska länderna 24 April 1887; an untitled notice in Åbo Tidning 14 February 1894. Under the headline Från Skandinavien, Nya Pressen 29 January 1887, the bohemian movement around Hans Jæger and Christian Krohg was described as «den impressionistiska vänstern» («the impressionist left wing»). In the history of art, the impressionists are often seen as ‘the extreme left’ in relation to the academic painters.

4   Arne Toftegaard Pedersen has mapped the press reports on Bang’s tour of Finland (2002: 44-45). He also mentions Torben Nielsen’s essay På tourné med Herman Bang (Nielsen 1984; On Tour with Herman Bang) as a text offering «en livlig beskrivelse af Bangs møde med Finland» (44; «a lively description of Bang’s encounter with Finland»).

5   See Literära och vetenskapliga samfund i S:t Petersburg: Bref till H:fors Dagblad (Literary and Scientific Associations in St. Petersburg), Hufvudstadsbladet 3 March 1889. The work taken into account by Gneditch was Zola’s novel La Terre (The Earth). In a «letter from Russia», published in Tammerfors Nyheter in 1910, the signature ‘Spectator’ gave a short characteristic of Chekhov’s impressionism with the following words: «Den färgar allt i författarens egen stämning (impressionism)» («It colours everything with the author’s personal mood [impressionism]»).

6   Gustaf af Geijerstam was one of the founders of the student association Verdandi in Sweden. He worked for the Swedish newspapers Aftonbladet and Dagens Nyheter and reported from the Swedish cultural scene in Bref från Sverige (Letters from Sweden) for the Finnish review Finsk tidskrift in the years when C.G. Estlander was its editor-in-chief (1876-86). Geijerstam also worked as a literary counselor for the publishing house Gernandt in the years 1897-1902. His debut as a writer dates back to 1882, when Gråkallt (Greycold), his first collection of short stories, was published. As a writer, Geijerstam was first influenced by Zola and French naturalism, later he declared his admiration for Dostoyevsky and Russian realism. He translated Bang’s Fædra into Swedish in 1883.

7   In one of Georg Nordensvan’s articles dedicated to impressionist painting (Nordensvan 1883c) it is evident that the author shared the early conoisseurs’ admiration of impressionist landscapes but also their doubts when confronted with the juxtaposition of colours. In part III of the present work I will examine Nordensvan’s art criticism in relation to his prose fiction.

8   The notion of ‘the innocent eyeʼ acquired fame through the use Ruskin made of it in Elements of Drawing, first published in 1857 (Ruskin 1997), but stems from a long tradition in the discourse of artistic theory. Pouzet-Duzer (2008: 15, 217) attributes the invention of a natural and primitive «œil impressionniste» as opposed to the «œil académique», with its imposed rules of perception, to Jules Laforgue (Laforgue 1902-03). An English translation of Laforgue’s essay (Laforgue 1956) can be found online at https:// Accessed 7 February 2018.

9   The nine commandments of the Bohème were published in Impressionisten 8, February 1889. Jæger anticipated the first commandment with his statement, published on the nr. 7 issue, that the new literature which was in the making by the modern youth of Kristiania would be nothing more and nothing less than ‘writing one’s own life’. See Storskog 2003.

10   The art and literary historian Carl Gustaf Estlander (1834-1910), founder and editor-in-chief of Finsk tidskrift, was also one of the supporters of the project to erect a new building to host the Finnish National Gallery, Ateneum, that had opened in 1863. The new building, designed by architect C.T. Höijer, opened up its doors to the public in 1887. As chairman of Antellska delegationen 1894-1905, a foundation devoted to acquiring art for the new museum, Estlander was well aware of the state of contemporary art.

11   The following year, 1892, at the annual meeting of Finska Konstföreningen (The Finnish Society of Art), Estlander pondered upon the rapid succession of artistic trends that he had foreseen in the above-mentioned quotation and came to the conclusion that the dominating trend «heter idag impressionism […] – den heter imorgon symbolism» (qtd. in Ringbom 1998: 216; «is called impressionism today […] – tomorrow it will be called symbolism»).

12   The same way of uniting realism, naturalism, and impressionism into a singular trend with the common aim of an accurate imitation of nature, had been exposed by Ferdinand Brunetière in an article that had appeared in a Swedish translation (Brunetière 1881).

13   On impressionism and Finland see Reitala 1967, Hintze 1942-44, as well as Bonsdorff 2002.

14   In a letter to Helsingfors Dagblad, 18 February 1870 (Lindholm 1870), Lindholm describes the birth of a new artistic movement waiving the literary elements of painterly subjects in favour of the study of the juxtaposition of colours and the influence of atmospheric effects (air, light) on colours. Lindholm mentions Manet, Pissarro, and the Dutch painter Jonkind as the founders of the new current.

15   Bonsdorff (2002: 263) mentions Albert Edelfelt, Axel Gallén, Eero Järnefelt, Torsten Wasastjerna, and Victor Westerholm as the only Finnish painters that could allow themselves to adopt impressionist techniques without losing their appeal on the art buyers in Finland.

16   See Tikkanen 1904a, 1904b; Deshairs 1904a, 1904b, 1904c.

17   Cf., «Den konstnärliga metodens olämplighet för ämnet och det ofta ytterst flyktiga skisserandet i teckningen hindrar den [Lybecks talang som författare] att komma till sin rätt» (1894 ’Literatur o konst’; «The impropriety of the artistic method when applied to this subject matter and the often extremely fleeting sketchiness of the portrayal prevents [Lybeck’s talent as a writer] from shining through»).

18   ‘W.S.’ (1892) compares Tavaststjerna’s character who possesses «en känslighet, så sjukligt öfverretad» («a sensibility, so sickly overstimulated») to Ola Hansson’s Sensitiva Amorosa. ‘G.C.’ (1892) talks of the impressionist protagonist as a «fysionomist» and in general of Tavaststjerna’s modern mysticism «à la Ola Hansson».

19   See Westermarck 1884a, 1884b, 1884c, 1892, 1893.

20   The concept of art and literature as image and expression of the times brings us back to Christian Krohg’s slogan, deriving from his need to find expression for an acute feeling of living in a new, frantically modern, era. In his writings, as we have seen, Krohg was very much concerned with the need for transmitting «tidens billede», an image of the contemporary age and its people.

21   The signature ‘Scylla och Charybdis’ also commented on Westermarck’s acquaintance with impressionism in a review of her work for Finsk tidskrift in 1883: «Frk. W. har tidigare studerat i Paris och der blifvit bekant med den modernaste af alla franska skolor, den som proklamerar att allt är skönt som är naturligt och hvilken vill göra konsten till ett slags färglagd ögonblicksfotografi» (1883: 476; «Miss W. has previously studied in Paris, where she has grown familiar with the most modern of all the French schools, the one that proclaims that anything natural is beautiful and wishes to make of art some kind of coloured snapshot photograph»).

22   Loti’s novel is the main point of interest in Richard M. Berrong’s book discussing how Monet’s impressionism was transposed into words, cf., Berrong 2013.

23   In his Pariser-krönika (1890; Parisian Chronicle), Kaufman recognized the impressionists as one of the modern literary schools in France alongside decadents, symbolists, and «terrorists à la Maeterlinck».


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