The starting point for Linneaus and glimpses of paradise exhibition, curated by Claudia de Brün, at The Sinebrychoff Art Museum in Helsinki, Finnland, until 28th August 2022, is the inspiration about gardens and flowers in the painting.
The early days of Finnish garden history are associated with the naturalists Pehr Kalm (1716–1779) and his teacher Carl von Linné (1707–1778), and the connection between horticultural art and botanical research was very strong at the time. Rare plants were the gardener’s pride. Flowers’ symbolic or ornamental roles in paintings developed into detailed floral portraits in the 17th century, which heralded the birth of the floral still life. Images also became an important part of natural research and its illustration. Artists specializing in flower painting – a significant number of whom were women – also left their mark on botanical publications.
The early stages of Finnish garden history are especially associated with two naturalists, Carl Linnaeus (1707−1778) and his student Pehr Kalm (1716−1779). Linnaeus’s breakthrough work Systema Naturae, which was published in Leiden in 1735, presented his new classification system, which elevated him to international fame. This system grouped animals, plants and minerals into classes, orders, genera and species, and gave each a scientific Latin name. Over time, the large-scale first foil print of Systema Naturae was followed by numerous new editions that grew from the original 14 pages to evolve into hefty opuses.
Botany formed part of medicinal studies during Linnaeus’s time, so in 1741 he became Professor of Medicine at Uppsala University, and also took over the city’s botanical garden. Planting was arranged in the symmetrical central part of the garden according to the new classification system that had been presented in Systema Naturae, and the garden served as a living textbook for educational purposes. The order and symbolism inherent in the symmetrically-arranged garden also emphasized the beauty of God’s creative work. In Finland, Turku Academy’s new, larger garden was built in 1759 under the direction of Linnaeus’s apprentice Pehr Kalm (1716–1779). It was modeled on Uppsala University’s botanical garden.
Linnaeus’s first presentation of Swedish flora was not a richly illustrated edition. There is only one plant image in it: Linnaea borealis (twinflower), which was the author’s favorite flower. Linnaeus discovered this delicate plant on his way to Swedish Lapland in 1732 and fell in love with it immediately. In his description of the species, he mentions that it is modest, insignificant, and inconspicuous and that it blooms only for a short time – qualities that he personally identified with – and he apparently initially toyed with the idea of giving the plant his own name. The name Linnaea was officially adopted in 1737 by the Dutch physician and botanist Johann Friedrich Gronovius, no doubt after first consulting with Linnaeus and gaining his approval. Gronovius was one of Linnaeus’s Dutch helpers and patrons, and he had helped publish Systema Naturae a few years earlier. Shortly afterward, in 1753, Linnaeus gave the species the Latin name Borealis, which refers to the northern occurrence of the plant, and Linnaea borealis quickly became his ubiquitous trademark. When he was ennobled in 1757, he included twinflower in his coat of arms.
Plants in the garden, and especially flowers, have received much more attention in the visual arts than the garden has itself. They are among the earliest and most important pictorial subjects. The tradition of making pictures of plants extends from ornamental representations and symbolic meanings to the peak of the evolution of detailed floral portraits. In the context of the emergence of the floral still life in the late 16th century, it can be considered to have become an independent pictorial subject. The representation of flowers or insects in such paintings generally kept pace with scientific descriptions, but the floral composition is always a combination. Painting is able to do what nature cannot – still life flower bouquets could combine flowers that bloom in completely different seasons.
The desire to perpetuate the fleeting beauty of rapidly changing nature was reflected in European visual arts, especially with regard to the prevalence of floral subjects. In the 16th and 17th centuries, garden owners commissioned anthological flower catalogs, precious collections of floral portraits that contained the horticultural treasures of the garden. These anthologies, known as florilegia, illustrated the whole microcosm of the garden in a similar way as the then-popular curiosity cabinets that sought to describe the whole world. The illustrations combined artistic ambition with increasing scientific precision.
An accurate depiction of plants requires not only the artistic ability but a special knowledge of the subject being described. The biographies of several painters who specialized in the subject tell of their enthusiasm for botany, especially Rachel Ruysch, who obtained a rare contact with flora through her father, Frederik Ruysch (1638–1731), who was a professor of anatomy and botany in Amsterdam and the first director of the city’s botanical garden. Talented Rachel began her studies as a still-life painter at the age of 15. She enjoyed a long career and her work was highly esteemed internationally, so much so that it commanded a higher price at the time than Rembrandt’s paintings. Since 1708, she was also the court artist of Johann Wilhelm von der Pfalz, Düsseldorf’s Elector Palatine.
Gardens on Bulevardi
The construction of gardens became a real fashion phenomenon, and pioneers included the architect Carl Ludvig Engel (1778–1840), who built himself a garden and a house on Bulevardi in 1826–28. Close by, also on Bulevardi, next to the Sinebrychoff Brewery, a wooden residential and office building, which is still in use today, was erected in 1823. This also included a garden. The new representative main building, the current museum, was completed in 1842. The complex also included a landscaped garden that provided a beautiful view, especially from the windows of the upstairs living rooms, and the large plot of land was converted into a park that was open to the public.
The women’s sphere traditionally included the house and garden. Anna Sinebrychoff was also an avid gardener, and she participated in the founding of the Finnish Horticultural Association in 1875. Palm trees, roses and other flowers that were raised in the Sinebrychoffs’ greenhouses adorned the garden and the finest rooms in their home. Walking was a popular pastime for the city bourgeoisie and the upper class in the 19th century, following the European model.