The Nelimarkka Foundation was established in 1945 by professor and artist Eero Nelimarkka. Other founders were professor J.A. Hollo, artist Ragnar Ekelund, composer Sulho Ranta, professor L. Wennervirta and Antti Nelimarkka, M.Sc.(Tech.), and Vilho Rantapihla, M.Sc.(Tech.).
The mission of the Nelimarkka Foundation is to preserve and promote Eero Nelimarkka’s production and life’s work. Eero Nelimarkka built the Nelimarkka Museum on his father’s farm at Alajärvi in southern Ostrobothnia. Its core collection of some 1700 works is owned by The Nelimarkka Foundation.
The Foundation also supports and oversees the museum’s operations. The Nelimarkka Foundation provides support for visual art by constantly expanding its own contemporary-art collection. The Foundation is based in Helsinki.
The Nelimarkka Fund Foundation’s collections contain over 700 works by Eero Nelimarkka, the majority of which are paintings, and contemporary Finnish art by numerous different artists. The ‘new-acquisitions collection’ is augmented annually. The collection currently includes over 300 works from the last twenty years. Some of the notable artists are, for example, Kai Stenvall, Tero Laaksonen, Kimmo Kaivanto, Kimmo Pyykkö, Pirkko Nukari, Jarmo Mäkilä, Stiina Saaristo and Viggo Wallenskiöld.
The Nelimarkka Fund Foundation supports the visual art of living artists in all its current forms, the main criteria being the originality, interestingness and quality of the works.
Eero Nelimarkka (1891-1977) and his art
Eero Nelimarkka, the youngest of 8 children, was born in Vaasa on 10 November 1891 of artisan parents. His father, a tailor by profession, was also known as a lay preacher. At about the time of Nelimarkka’s birth the family was struck by tragedy: their passionately devoted father suffered a nervous breakdown and was committed to a mental hospital. From that point their mother was the sole supporter of this large family.
After completing primary school at the age of twelve Nelimarkka was employed as a confectioner’s apprentice. The fact that he chose this profession, besides being a necessary means of livelihood, implies “a childish wish to get within reach of all those delicacies one could formerly only dream about”, as Nelimarkka later said. For his journeyman’s record of service in the confectioner’s trade he needed a certificate from the school of artisans. One of this school’s subjects was drawing, and from this point his interest developed until it would eventually cause him to change his occupation.
Nelimarkka’s first trips abroad took him Stockholm and Lubeck, where he had been granted a scholarship by the artisans’ association for further studies. After returning home Nelimarkka started planning to move to Helsinki and pursue his art studies there. The next few years in the capital demanded a busy schedule by day he worked in a confectionary; by night he attended night classes at the school of the Society of Applied Art.
Lacking a secondary school education, Nelimarkka was refused admission to the day classes of the Atheneum drawing school. Under these circumstances the artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela advised him to take a shortcut and go straight to Paris. So Nelimarkka, resorting to borrowed funds, left immediately for France in January 1912. On returning to Helsinki he was fortunate enough to be admitted into the art department of the university as a pupil of Eero Järnefelt. Järnefelt’s influence on his artistic development was of great importance, because through him his ties to the tradition of natural realism strengthened and his depiction of portrait subjects developed.
The later half of the 1910s was an important period of development for Nelimarkka, when he experimented with diferent modes of painting. He first passed over to dark, expressive painting, only to return to a brighter and lighter colour scale.
In spite of his new base in Helsinki Nelimarkka retained strong ties with Ostrobothnia. Since 1914 his connections with Ostrobothnia were greatly strenghtened when he began to pay summer visits to the home of his good friend Judge Väinö Alaviitala in Alahärmä. In this rural milieu he found the calm interiors and the plain landscapes of Ostrobothnia congenial and self-assuring. The visits to Alaviitala resulted in a very important personal development: he met and fell in love with Väinö’s sister Saima and they were married on the last day of December 1918. His life within the community at Alahärmä became still more personally relevant to Nelimarkka, and the meandering Lapuanjoki river with its surrounding plains an important object of depiction for his whole life.
In the first years of their marriage the young couple lived in Helsinki. For Nelimarkka, the 1920s were years of hard work and high productivity. His paintings of this period express his great vitality and ardent creative zeal, explained partly by the impressions made by sojourns abroad, partly by his personal wellbeing, his recovery from serious tuberculosis, his domestic happiness, a wife and children. In these years Nelimarkka was emerging as the masterly portrayer of the Ostrobothnian rural milieu and plains through which he is known all over Finland.
With the 1930s came a definitive change in Nelimarkka’s art. This transition to the late period is most evident in portraiture. The colour scale includes darker tones of ochre-green and grey-blue; in texture, the the colour layer gets thinner, the brushwork even, effaced. The often bold and experimental touch characteristic of the 1920s disappears, and effects of depth and melancholy as well as mild humour and irony become manifest in the portrayal of subjects.
During the war winters Nelimarkka spent long periods in Alajärvi: as early as 1928 he had bought a site in the village of Pekkola, the old home district of his family, and built a house there.
Nelimarkka was a keen traveller: as a young man he left brazenly for Paris, alone and almost penniless. After the Second World War his travelling companion was mostly his wife. These trips to Central and Southern Europe inspired many landscapes which are not easily recognizable as his: the colours are exceptionally brilliant and the air is heavy with the glow of the sun.
”If I ever build a house, you can design it,” Eero Nelimarkka said jokingly to his young architect friend Hilding Ekelund at the end of the 1910s. This youthful wish was to become a reality in a unique manner over 40 years later: Referring to their youthful conversation, Nelimarkka asked his friend, who was now a prominent professor of architecture, to design an art museum. In due course, Nelimarkka received the first-class drawings and, in 1964, the museum was completed on the same plot where Eero Nelimarkka’s father’s home had stood. The extension completed in 1974 was designed by Nelimarkka, and to a large extent follows Hilding Ekelund’s drawings.
In the summer of 1981, the Nelimarkka Foundation and Alajärvi town council made a very important and far-reaching decision: the council bought the museum real estate and plot, and undertook to carry on running the museum at Alajärvi. Since 1995, the Nelimarkka Museum has been the Southern Ostrobothnia Regional Art Museum.
Visitors to the Nelimarkka Museum can see the artist Eero Nelimarkka’s production, his personal history, and his studio. The Museum puts on changing exhibitions of contemporary art throughout the year. The Nelimarkka Academy, which is in one of the buildings adjacent to the Museum, provides a tranquil setting close to nature for visual-arts courses, workshops and international artist’s residencies.
The Museum was opened in 1964. Apart from showing Nelimarkka’s own production, 5-6 exhibitions by contemporary artists are held on the museum’s premises each year. The Museum also researches Eero Nelimarkka’s production and that of other Nordic artists.