Hugo Simberg


Hugo Simberg ( June 24 1873, Hamina - July 12 1917, ) was a Finnish symbolist painter and graphic artist. In 1895 he became the private pupil of Akseli Gallen-Kallela at his wilderness studio Kalela in Ruovesi. The two characters Simberg used most in his art are the "Poor Devil" and Death.

He also took photographs and made drawings of naked pre-pubesent boys, many carrying large wreaths. The wreath-bearing boys have a link with Simberg's earlier photographs, including 'Guido, Fish Boy', a boy sitting on a rock looking out to sea and Leo standing with his arm raised on a jetty. These images of boys reflect growth, change, puberty and sexual identity. The wreath-carriers are a central motif of the frescoes at the Tampere Cathedral, which Simberg painted between 1905 and 1906.

Simberg's works mostly focus on the macabre and the supernatural, possessing a haunting, gloomy beauty. A good example of this is his painting Kuolema kuuntelee ("Death Listens"). The painting depicts Death, personified as a skeleton wearing a black coat, listening with a bowed head as a young man plays the violin. In the background, there is an old woman lying on a bed, looking pale and sickly. The viewer is left with an impression that it is her that Death is there for, but that he has opted to stay his hand so the young man, possibly the dying woman's son, can have time to finish his playing.

Simberg's famous The Wounded Angel, too, emits a gloomy atmosphere, its titular character appearing in the shape of a little blindfolded girl, borne on a stretcher by two somberly dressed boys, one of whom looks out at the viewer with a serious expression. The painting is the best known of the artist's works and has become something of a national icon. The Finnish symphonic-metal band Nightwish released on 11 August 2007, their latest music video, "Amaranth", which is based on this particular painting.