Self-Portrait, 1907
A-2007-154
Ateneum

Self-Portrait, 1907

Hugo Simberg

On Midsummer’s Day 1873, twin boys were born to the family of Colonel Niclas and Ebba Mathilda Simberg in Hamina. Hugo and his brother Paul grew up in an extended family environment. The marriage was the father’s second, and, in addition to the parents and the boys’ sister Mathilda, the family community also included four children from the father’s previous marriage as well as the father’s sister, Alexandra, and the maternal grandmother.

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Hugo and Paul Simberg.

Niclas was 50 when the twins were born, a vigorous and industrious man. He supported his ever-growing household for more than six decades, and eventually died at the age of 93 – and even then it was following an accident. From his two marriages, 12 children survived into adulthood, and he saw that most of them got a profession. They all received an education suiting their inclinations. Mathematical talent in particular was well represented in the Simberg family. Hugo Simberg’s childhood seems to have been exceptionally harmonious and safe. He had his own, definite place in the chain of siblings, and the support and care of family members was a given even in adulthood.

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Hugo Simberg surrounded by his siblings at the family’s summer home Niemenlautta.
From left Blenda, Guido, Paul, Mathilda, Hugo, Elsa, Elma and Volter.

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Hugo with sister Blenda in fancy dress.

“My dear sons! I had awaited your letter anxiously, so my joy was all the greater when I received your dear lines. It is such a pleasure to be told that you continue to be healthy and cheerful… Do take lessons in music and languages as well, but only if you have the time – do not overstrain yourselves.”

– Niclas Simberg’s letter to his sons Hugo and Paul, who were studying in Helsinki, September 1893. Hugo Simberg Archive, Finnish National Gallery.

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Selfie by Hugo.

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Painter of St John’s Church in Tampere.

The artistic career did not prove to be an easy one, however. Light and dark sometimes alternated quite intensely in Hugo Simberg’s life. Being of a sensitive and compassionate nature, the ups and downs of life occasionally dragged him into a depression, then at times he felt exhilarated and in love with the whole world. Yet humour was never far away and made itself known all the time.

After getting married at the age of 36, Simberg dedicated himself to his family with the same zeal as he had dedicated himself to art. He did not have long to enjoy this much-awaited stage in his life, however. A sudden illness ended Hugo Simberg’s life at the age of 44 on a summer holiday on 11 July 1917.

By the time of his memorial exhibition in 1918, Simberg’s importance was universally recognised and the similarities between his art and that of medieval and early Renaissance masters were pointed out. Since then, Simberg and his art have fascinated every new generation of viewers.

“Hugo Simberg is one of the most peculiar artists of our time… His talent is different from that of any other painter.”

Statement by the painter and art critic Sigrid Schauman, 29 October 1936