- A Summary of the new book by Senior Curator Leena Ahtola-Moorhouse on sculptor, professor Eila Hiltunen, published by the Didrichsen Art Museum in 2001
Eila Hiltunen (born 1922)
Steel, fire, inspiration - a sculptor's life
The life and career of Eila Hiltunen, who has significantly influenced the history of Finnish art, is rich. As the only child of the family she received much love and attention. Her mother consciously raised her to become an artist whereas her father introduced young Eila to the interesting world of metal in his workshop. Eila Hiltunen herself says that as the only child she had to be both a father's son and a mother's daughter. She gained a double role from the start, and this she fully realized later in life.
Eila's childhood was free of economic worries until the year of recession 1929, when her father's firm went bankrupt. Their family moved from Hamina to Helsinki, where Eila studied in Helsingin tyttönormaalilyseo, a secondary school for girls. The school of the Fine Arts Academy of Finland (1942-1946) was the next stage, and its sculpture class her emphatic choice. During that time Eila Hiltunen also met her future husband, the cadet and photographer Otso Pietinen (1916-1993). They married in the summer 1944 and had two children.
Her career took well off considering the difficult circumstances caused by the war. The sensitive head study Helge won prize in a students' art competition in 1945. Her first solo exhibition (1951) aroused an encouraging response in the press and she received monumental comissions such as war grave memorials. In 1954 Hiltunen's entry for the Marshal Mannerheim equstrian statue received a purchase prize in the competition.
There are more open-air works by Eila Hiltunen abroad than by any other Finnish sculptor and they are often in significant public places in the local community e.g. in Canada, the United States, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Germany and Italy. An important event towards internationalism was Salzburg's American (and Mexican art) Studies seminar 1948. In the year 1955 she organised a solo exhibition in Copenhagen after she was left out of the Nordic Art Association exhibition by her fellow sculptors, with tedious competeing attitude. The young artist got excellent reviews in many newspapers. It was not easy for a young and talented female sculptor to force her way in such a male dominated area, which she had to realize several times in years to come. However, in the beginning she had support of an older female sculptor, Essi Renvall (1911-1979).
1950's was the golden age of design in Finland and that trend was aiming at international markets. Eila Hiltunen's husband Otso Pietinen, who worked as a main photographer for the designers, had an important task in marketing and informing about this design. This success must have given Eila strength to aim for international fame. The late 1950's was a time of reappraisal for her and this happened in a fast tempo. First she clearly disengaged herself from the complete plastic form and carving. Shortly after she began to use fire and metal directly, and she began to weld her works. The first welded work was Zebra, which was on show in 1959. The first principal work with this new technique was a welded copper sculpture Under Water in Tampere (1960). Already then her style differed radically from other Finnish sculptors. Under Water brought her great fame first in Turin, Italy (1961) and then in France (1964).
The real national and also international break-through of the sculptor was the process of completing the Sibelius Monument, Passio Musicae. The monument Passio Musicae was unveiled in September 1967. The acid-resistant steel entirety shows clearly that one can reach unique results with this new technique even in monumental scale. It also shows the possibilities for abstract sculpture to allow the viewer to experience the work in a modern manner. The monument truly arrived very close to the festive and magical nature of Sibelius' symphonic music. Passio Musicae is unquestionably both in Finland and internationally one of the most impressive memorials. There are partial studies of the monument in Montreal, Canada and outside the UN building in New York. A steel small-scale model of it is placed outside the UNESCO building in Paris.
Eila Hiltunen's aluminium brass Palm Grove (1975) in Teheran acts like the Sibelius Monument - in direct relation to its natural surroundings and culture of the country. It is also supported by three trunk-like tubes and one is able to walk into the space of the sculpture. The climax was, however, the imposing special steel Sunflower Field which is located in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (1984). It is the largest sculpture ever commissioned abroad from Finland. The massive fountain is located in a lagoon in the Red Sea. The sculpture creates in the landscape a counterforce to the still, hot and desert climate.
Italy has become Eila Hiltunen's second home country. In 1967 the artist and her husband found a tower of a medieval fortress in the village of Monticchiello near Siena and after a renovation it has become dear to the artist. Hiltunen has received magnificent feedback from Italy. She has been awarded with a gold medal in the Fiorentino Biennial, Florence 1971, she has held a large solo retrospective in the Palazzo Venezia in Rome 1985, and an exhibition in the museum of Santa Croce basilica in Florence 1990. The city of Rome received her steel sculpture Orchid in 1997. Among these recent public sculptures abroad there is also the steel sculpture Growth and Flame (1994) in Berlin.
Eila Hiltunen was the first artist who brought direct use of fire and metal into Finnish sculpting. She combined expressive decorativeness and splendour into structurally demanding welding. Hiltunen also emphasized the impression of lightness that could be achieved with this technique. Her sculptures were moving away from an art form that appealed to the sense of touch, into the direction of the eye and imagination. Eila has brought an antipole into the "scarce aesthetics" of Finnish sculpture - abundance, liveliness and splendour. In her miniature sculptures she often gives a burlesque and grotesque impression because of the special choice of materials. The overall view in her public sculptures is often more optimistic, abstract and festive. They are made to adjust to the surrounding nature and architecture. However, the monuments are chracterised by the artist's strong, novel and colourful emotions.
Click to order the book from the Didrichsen Art Museum.