I find the work of Hugo Simberg (1873-1917) fascinating and intent on making several posts to cover the range of his art. Simberg was an important figure in the symbolist movement and is regarded as the most influential Finnish painter. Simberg is best known for his unconventional allegorical paintings. Many of Simberg’s paintings depict moody boys which seems to reflect an understanding of what C.S. Lewis called the “dark ages of boyhood.” At first, the public found Simberg’s symbolic figures and narratives to be rather odd but they gradually accepted his efforts, and he was commissioned to paint the frescos for the Tampere Cathedral.
Simberg’s The Wound Angel is his best known work, it was voted Finland’s “national painting” in a vote held by the Ateneum art museum in 2006. Simberg himself declined to offer an interpretation of the painting, suggesting that the viewer could draw their own conclusions. I will only say that the painting may express the despair of modern youth Lewis described in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy.
The Finnish National Gallery’s Archives has a collection of nearly a thousand photographs taken by Simberg. The artist often had the family of friends model for his paintings. His photographs offer a unique insight into Simberg’s method of working. I will dedicate a post in the future to his photography.
At the Crossroads is not as well-known as The Wounded Angel but I think the painting is just as effective. The little angel could be the same angel in both paintings. A man stands at the crossroads of life, he is persuaded by an fair angel and a juvenile devil to take opposite paths. I believe that men as children are inclined to follow the angel but unfortunately, the modern educational system is a cause of disillusionment. So the man may be duped by the dark side. I can imagine the gray little devil ridiculing the man so that he will not follow the path of the gentle angel. He would shout crude accusations, “You’re just a pathetic dirty minded sissy if you follow her! Be a real man and take the rocky path.” It seems the crude little devil of Simberg’s painting has gotten the best of contemporary society.