Hugo Simberg’s dream world (1873–1917)Hugo Simberg’s work is an enhancement of the senses. Simberg created a dream world for himself which required symbolic means to interpret it. Simberg composes metaphors with coherence and continuity of subtle colors entering a mental landscape which movements are on the border of sleep and consciousness.
World of ideas
I’m sitting on something big and shapeless; I don’t know what it is, it takes me somewhere, I don’t know where… The journey gets brighter and brighter, and I wake up more and more. Eventually I am fully awake, and I see something big and shimmering that will soon disappear. You know, that’s exactly what I feel when I watch the clouds pass over the moon on a moonlit night. If you experience something like this when you get to see my picture, I have succeeded. — Hugo Simberg in a letter to his brother
In Fantasy, the dream-heavy but lightly outlined figure has abandoned the outside world and is focused on her own inner world. Only the dreamer’s own fantasy offers her everything she understands to dream. Simberg’s goal as painter was with his own words to paint everything that makes a person cry deep in their heart. He processed with the unconscious which was in focus of psychoanalysis in the late 19th century.
Symbol and continuum
Syntheticism is a painting technique with wide uniform color surfaces, their alignment and contrasts, using colors to create an atmosphere rather than an impression of reality. Symbolism enters reduced shapes, intense colors and lack of depth. Simberg’s colors are green, red, orange and yellow in their various shades. The colors initially differ according to principles of lightness and warmth, or darkness and coldness. Warm colors head outward from the center and flood the borders closer to the viewer; the cold retreats away and inwards, closing in on itself. Yellow is the warmest of colors, blue the coldest. White increases the warmth of yellow, its movement out and towards, black emphasizes the retraction of blue, movement inwards. If more blue is added to yellow, the movement outward from its center and closer to the viewer is reduced; blue stops it. The mixture of blue and yellow, green, is motionless, restful. According to Kandinsky, it’s the color of summer when nature rests on the storms of winter and the tremendous growth of spring.
The wind blows where it wants. You hear that hum, but you don’t know where it comes from and where it’s going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. — John 3:8
What am I, and where have I come from; where will I go, and what will I do? — Pekka Halonen
Wounded angel is a compassion for the people, reality of the disadvantaged in society. The picture does not reveal what has happened; it shows only the attenuated echoes of the tragedy, light reflections of a heavy event. The angel cannot see, does not fly with his wings, which in Platonic symbolism means a departure from the original home, beauty, and oblivion of the soul. The body loses its lightness, becomes heavy, wingless. Awakening sexuality in puberty, pain in proximity, and the closeness of the death. The connection between memories breaks and the soul twists into itself – the real existence seems to be somewhere else. The wings make the heavy light and elevate it closer to beauty, the world of ideas. The fragility of life enters symbolism by turning inwards, instead of imitating the external world, depicts visions, dreams and fantasies, based on subjective feelings, thoughts and experiences, with the aim of achieving a universal dimension.
When Simberg first exhibited the work at the Ateneum in 1903, Simberg marked a long line of thought for the name, possibly aiming to let everyone see what they wanted. Interpretation by Helsingforsposten observed a feeling that prevails when something beautiful, something pure within oneself is crushed and Sakari Saarikivi: What was bad has already been left behind. The time for reconciliation and peace has come. The child’s faith and diligent respect to work and life will brighten the future again.
Only gardening is important
Simberg’s language arises from the realisation of the temporality and mortality of human existence. Simberg saw life as a cycle in which death also prepared for a new life. It was like a long hibernation, overwhelmed by the spring sun and waking nature alive again. When scary things get their say, they became less scary and easier to understand.
The pace is hard, and I can feel the strong airflow hissing in my ears at the speed of the wind. During the journey, it turns white, and I gradually wake up like a dream. Finally, I am completely awake and now I see something big and great that is suddenly disappearing. — Simberg explains in his letter to his brother what he felt as he watched the red-colored moon rising behind the black forest and the passage of clouds over it
Huttunen, Samuli, Hugo Simberg etsi totuutta ja halusi lähestyä jumalaa maallisen rakkauden kautta – mutta voiko totuutta löytää?, Kulttuuritoimitus, 29.8.2019
Kokkinen, Nina, Totuudenetsijät: Esoteerinen henkisyys Akseli Gallen-Kallelan, Pekka Halosen ja Hugo Simbergin taiteessa, Vastapaino, 2019
Kämäräinen, Eija, Merenpoika Hugo Simberg, WSOY, 1996
Lahelma, Marja, Hugo Simberg – Ateneumin taiteilijat, Ateneum Kansallisgalleria, 2017
Levanto, Marjatta, Hugo Simberg ja Haavoittunut enkeli, Valtion taidemuseo, 1993
Levanto, Marjatta, Halme, Heikki, Olavinen, Anja, Paloposki, Hanna-Leena, Stewen, Riikka, Vihanta, Ulla, Hugo Simberg – Aapinen, Ateneumin julkaisut nro 24, 2000
Stewen, Riikka, Hugo Simberg – Unien maalari, Otava, 1989
Saarikivi, Sakari, Hugo Simberg – elämä ja tuotanto, WSOY, 1948
Tarasti, Eero, Transsendenssista, narraatiosta ja musiikista Hugo Simbergin maalaustaiteessa / Ymmärtämisen merkit: samuuden ja toiseuden ikoneja suomalaisessa kulttuurissa, International Semiotics Institute, 2000