Water and Life

Life on this planet began with water. Water covers almost three quarters of the Earth’s surface. It is an essential element for life. Throughout its history, art has often depicted water through people’s activities and needs. Today, people are more aware of the environment. This exhibition displays works from the seventeenth century onwards: paintings, sculptures, graphic art and contemporary art in a range of methods.

  • 15.2.–11.8.2024
1st floor
Tickets: with a museum ticket
Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865–1931): The Rushes (detail), 1884. Finnish National Gallery / The Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jukka Romu.

Expensive trading ships are stowed full in a harbour, or resolute warships are espied from the shore. In the seventeenth-century Dutch tradition, water is the stage for human achievements, such as wealthy trading ports. Occasionally, water forms the backdrop to people’s leisure. At its most authentic, water is seen through the essence of landscapes and the adoration of natural forces. Of the masters on display, the members of the Barbizon School, such as Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (1796–1875) and Charles-François Daubigny (1817–1878), dedicated themselves to interactions with nature.

Art draws us deeper into the moods of water. Water is by its nature often meditative and calming, even though it contains power and unpredictability. In landscapes and outdoor pursuits, water often plays the primary role. At its best, art conveys the sensations that water arouses. The movement and mood of water capture our gaze.

Half of the planet’s plants and animals live in the water, and all the rest need water to live. When we look at water landscapes, we are confronted with thoughts about the future, as well as about changes to landscapes and the role of humans. We see the significance of water, as well as the vulnerability of bodies of water, underwater life and the glaciers.