The Farmer’s Wife and the Poor Devil
The lives of the poor devils in Hugo Simberg’s work are full of mishaps. They have the flu, a toothache, they are starving or have burned the food. Luckily they can also receive and give help. The lives of humans and poor devils are very close and frequently intersect. In this picture, the farmer’s wife gives milk to a devil with twins – Simberg was a twin himself. A devil could also lend a hand in the kitchen. It could lift up a hot pot without burning its fingers. It could also be quite wild and cause trouble, but most of Simberg’s devils are not malicious.
The first devils in Simberg’s work bore a distinct resemblance to the artist himself. Later on the resemblance faded, and the devil acquired its distinctive features, a tail and horns.
The devil in Simberg’s pictures is a symbol of the haphazard quality of life: small annoyances and irritations, balancing amidst the challenges of everyday life – the kind of capriciousness of fate we are all familiar with. Most contemporary art critics did not understand this tragicomic figure.
“As Mr Simberg has now shown that he has the abilities to become a true artist, it would behove him to exclude such rubbish from his exhibitions as ‘The Devil Blowing’ or ‘The Farmer’s Wife and the Poor Devil.”
– Jac. Ahrenberg, Hufvudstadsbladet, 27 October 1898.
“Hugo Simberg appears to be one of those who have made use of the summer. He seems now to have finally abandoned the ‘small devils’ and other imaginary flights of outrageous fancy and to have dedicated himself in earnest to the study of real life and nature.”
– Nom de plume ‘T.H.’ in Päivälehti, 29 November 1901.
On the other hand, when Simberg switched almost completely to the realist idiom in his later work, many people missed his devils.
“[I hope] that he might not yet have outgrown his rich and imaginative sense of humour.”
– Helsingforsposten, 27 October 1904.