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Finland's ‘national painting’

Posted September. 19, 2019 07:18,   

Updated September. 19, 2019 07:18


Two boys are carrying a wounded angel. The angel’s eyes are bandaged and her wing is bleeding. The boy in the front is wearing all black top-to-toe as if he is going to a funeral and the one in the back meets the gaze of viewers with a serious look. The boys’ facial expressions are grim so is the surrounding landscape, as if to imply how bad the situation is. Why is the angel wounded and where they are going?

Finnish symbolist painter Hugo Simberg's “The Wounded Ange” brings up a lot of questions but there are no answers. The painter was famous for not providing any explanation about his works. Whenever asked, he instead answered that it’s up to individual viewers’ interpretation. There could be some guesses about the painting, though. First, the background of the painting is an animal park that still exists today and a nearby riverbank. There were many charity institutions, such as a nursing home, a hospital, and a school and dormitory for the blind, in the park that was mainly visited by the working class. Therefore, it is possible to infer that two boys are carrying the angel to a hospital for her wounds.

There is still snow in the mountain far away, yet some flowers are blossoming sparingly on an otherwise barren field. Despite her injuries, the angel is holding a bunch of white snowdrops, which blossom in early spring and represent healing, revival and hope. The angel clutching the flowers of hope may symbolize the painter himself as he had spent several months at a hospital for meningitis before painting this work.

An angel in art has always been pictured as a perfect and spiritual being as an intermediary between God and humans. Yet, the angel in Simberg’s painting resembles a human that can be easily wounded, bloodied, and weak, which makes here more relatable. “The Wounded Angel” of Simberg was voted Finland's "national painting" in 2006 by the Finnish who have the highest happiness score in the world for representing philanthropy, natural landscape of Finland, message of healing and hope, and open interpretation.