Fanny Churberg
Like No Other Woman Before
1 Jun – 2 Sep 2012
That which is innermost – passion – that is what I would like to reveal, but then I am ashamed that I cannot – because I am a woman. Few women ever became such magicians. Fanny Churberg did.
- Helene Schjerfbeck, 1921.

Fanny Churberg – Like No Other Woman Before, summer exhibition at the Turku Art Museum, showcases the work of Fanny Churberg (1845–1892), one of the foremost Finnish landscape painters. The show is also a milestone in terms of Churberg’s public exposure, because the last time her work was exhibited at this scale was in 1937. Churberg’s path into the history of Finnish painting was long and arduous. She sought inclusion among ‘the great’, and she declared that she wanted to go forward ‘like no other woman before’. She was an odd figure: ahead of her times and therefore difficult to define and pigeonhole. Critics were perplexed by Churberg’s manner of painting: some of the feedback was cautiously positive while some was quite harsh, even by 19th-century standards. Churberg herself never got to experience unreserved admiration; the time was not ripe for her art until after the artist’s death.

Fanny Churberg has been described as a strongly emotional person, someone for whom the experience of great emotions in art and life alike was an end in itself. The main subject of Churberg’s paintings was Finnish nature in its different seasons and hours of the day, but it was also a source of inspiration and comfort for her. High rocky cliffs and waterfalls, dark clouds foreboding a thunderstorm, moonlit landscapes, these were just the kind of subjects that most likely reflected her artistic ambitions and her emotional needs. The struggle between romanticism and realism is in fact clearly visible in Churberg’s output: some of her works aim to depict a certain mood, others seek to portray truthfully things one might observe in nature.

Fanny Churberg began her career as an artist in the early 1870s, at a time when landscape painting still relied on traditional ideas of beauty, and art was seen as a patriotic undertaking. What made Churberg exceptional was that her vision of nature was based on personal experience. Landscape art in Finland at the time was averse to emotionalism, it was expected instead to be lyrical, harmonious and tranquil. The prevalent idea of beauty called for a restrained style, whereas Churberg used brusque strokes and at times very intense colours. She also used black and white in her palette, which was unusual in Finland at the time.

By the early 1870s Fanny Churberg was already noted as a promising, personal painter, but her critics numbered more than those who encouraged her. Churberg’s artistic career remained exceptionally short: she stopped painting in the beginning of the 1880s, channelling her energies instead into the activities of the Friends of Finnish Handicraft society. The reason for the decision may have been the biased and unsympathetic treatment of female artists at the time, an attitude Churberg herself encountered several times. The last of Fanny Churberg’s works were magnificent moonlight and winter landscapes. These wild, passionate and colourful works can be considered her swan song.

The opening of the exhibition also marks the release of a new edition of Fanny Churberg by Professor Emerita, Dr Riitta Konttinen, published by Otava (in Finnish). A Swedish-language edition of the book will also be published now for the first time.
Turun taidemuseo, Aurakatu 26, 20100 Turku, Puh. 02 2627 100. © 2019