Each country has a “most beloved painting” that is most well liked by its people. Then which painting is most loved by people in Finland, which tops the list for happiness index? This painting by Albert Edelfelt was voted as the “most important painting in the country” by the Finnish people in 2013. What makes this painting, which depicts a scene of ordinary children playing by the beach, so special?
Edelfelt, who was well-versed in drawing portraits and landscapes, was the first Finnish artist who introduced Finnish art to the world. Born in Porvoo of southern Finland, he gained international fame after winning a gold medal in the Paris world exhibition in 1889. The background in this painting is the seaside of his hometown. Porvoo, surrounded by forests and sea, has beautiful, clear and shallow waters, which is perfect for water play. Peaceful and scenic, the venue has inspired many Finnish artists. Tove Jansson, the creator of the character Moomin, also spent summers here to write books, as Edelfelt did to depict natural beauty and everyday life in paintings. The painting depicts three boys wearing only shirts or pants rolled up to the knee, who are sailing toy boats. The pants of the boy on the far left show that the boys have already had plenty of fun rolling in the mud. The face of the boy that holds a boat in his hand and waiting for his turn shines with joy and expectation. Far away, there are small islets and forests and a boat is passing by on the left.
At the time the painting was created, Finland had been annexed by Russia. Before then it had been ruled for several centuries by Sweden. Sandwiched between the two countries, Finland had lost its language, culture and sovereign power. The children in the painting may represent a hopeful future that the artist dreams of. The toy sailboat may be a symbol for freedom and hope for independence. It is no wonder that this painting of children playing in nature is an all-time favorite of the Finnish people. It makes me wonder, then, what would be the most favored painting for Korean people, who suffered similar situations?