Linnaeus and Glimpses of Paradise

A garden tells a great deal about people and their relation to the environment, as it develops at the interface of nature and culture. Gardens have always served as a mirror of our dreams and worldviews. Every gardener creates a personal paradise. The exhibition will extended to the Red Cellar 14.5.-28.8.2022.

  • 17.2.–28.8.2022
1st floor
Tickets: with a museum ticket
Various flowers in a blue and white porcelain bowl with a butterfly in the foreground.
Jean-Michel Picart (1600–1682), Still Life of Flowers. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis.

A proper history of gardens in Finland begins with the work of two naturalists, Pehr Kalm (1716–1779) and his teacher Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778). At the time there was a strong link between botanical research and garden art. Gardeners prided themselves with their rare plants.

Gardens have always been a source of wellbeing and joy, with flowers providing both visual and olfactory delight. The use of flowers as symbols or ornaments developed into botanical portraiture in the 17th century. The floral still life was born. Pictures became an important aspect of the study of nature and its illustration. Artists specialising in flower painting – a significant number of them women – also left their mark on botanical publications.

Carl Linnaeus (Råshult 1707–1778 Uppsala)

Linnaeus’s breakthrough work Systema Naturae was published in Leiden in 1735. It 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 expanded from the original 14 pages to hefty opuses.

The garden as a living textbook

Botany formed part of medicinal studies during Linnaeus’s time, so in 1741 he became Professor of Medicine at Uppsala University. He 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 built a new larger garden in 1759 under the direction of Linnaeus’s apprentice Pehr Kalm (1716–1779). It was modelled on Uppsala University’s botanical garden.

Plants and flowers as pictorial motifs

Plants in the garden, and especially flowers, have received much more attention in the visual arts than the garden itself. They are among the earliest and most important pictorial subjects. The tradition of creating images of plants extends from ornamental representations and symbolic meanings to detailed floral portraits. Towards the end of 16th century the floral still life became 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 new combination. Painting is able to do what nature cannot – still life flower bouquets could combineflowers that bloom in completely different seasons.

The garden as pastime

Floral portraits in florilegia were also used as models in design and craft works. Intricate embroidery and other handicrafts were considered a suitable pastime for women, whose sphere also 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.

Artworks at the exhibition