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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

S is for Hugo Simberg and symbolism

One of the many things I love about the internet is being able to find and learn about artists and artwork that I have never seen before. Recently I came across a photo of a painting that just stopped me in mid mouse click.

Originally presented without a title, the artist wanted viewers to form their own opinions and ideas about what the piece represented.  Eventually, Hugo Simberg, the artist (1873 -1917) titled the canvas 'The Wounded Angel'.

The Wounded Angel, painted in 1903, was to become the artist's favorite work. A sentiment shared by the Finnish people, who voted it The National Painting of Finland in 2006.

Simberg painted The Wounded Angel at a time when he was just recovering from a long illness. Some critics feel the work is representative of his feelings about that time period. Simberg refused to offer any explanation for the meaning of the work. He preferred to leave this challenge to the individual.

Over time, there has been a consensus of opinion by art historians and experts that the little angel-girl is being carried by the two boys along the pathway of a park in Elaintarha, Helsinki and the water in the background is Toolonlahti Bay.

At the time this painting was done, this area was frequented by those of the working class. Along the pathways were institutions that offered help to the poor, the ill, the homeless. It is believed that the angel-girl is being carried to the Blind Girls' School and Home for Cripples. The angel carries a small cluster of white snowdrop flowers which symbolize healing and rebirth.

When I look at this painting, I see two little boys who are taking their task very seriously. The first boy carefully leading the way, looks down at the ground as he walks because he wants nothing to distract him or obstruct him from his job. The the second boy, like the little voice inside our heads that questions our actions, deeds, thoughts, is staring accusingly as if asking the viewer 'did you do this?" . And, the little angel-clutching the poles tightly, I don't see as a sign of weakness, but rather as one who is gathering her strength and will. The blindfold represents the unknown that lies ahead. The little flowers in her hand, and if you notice, all along the path they are on, as symbols that she is going to heal and get better. And, I think hopefulness. So, I guess, though at first I looked and thought what a sad little painting, after looking at it for a while, and looking past the obvious I see it as a portrait of something much more positive.

What do you see when you look at this painting?

This post is brought to you by the letter S and the ABCThursday group which can be accessed by the link to the right. Join us. It is great fun, and a way to learn about new people, places and things!


  1. Certainly an interesting painting! I love the white against the dark colors, I see some sort of symbol of purity in that, and the expression on the second boy's face! I can't quite figure out what that means. I'll have to come back and take another look later...

  2. not an easy painting to decipher. the second boy looks furious. is it he who is carrying more of the weight of this fallen and wounded angel?

  3. It is a very striking painting. I love your interpretation.

  4. I love you take on this painting! What a wonderful piece!

  5. This is an excellent "S" post. I am not familiar with Simberg's work, and I plan to investigate this artist. It is a beautiful painting.

  6. Wonderful post ~ What I see in this very beautiful painting is the young healing the 'broken' ~ as well as each generation inheriting from the previous one ~ that life is both joy and sorrow ~ Lots in the painting ~ could be a whole thesis ~ (A Creative Harbor)

  7. What a beautiful painting and what a great choice for S day.

  8. That is a very interesting painting, and one I had never seen before. I love art, but I don't really study them to figure out the meaning behind the artist's work, unless it's obvious. I really like your interpretation of the painting. Thank you for sharing!

  9. Nice "S" word, Simberg. I won't remember his name but I won't forget the picture. Wounded Angel is aptly named.

    I first see the boys, especially the expression of the one in the rear. Then I realize they are dressed very differently, obviously from different stations in life. Pobably they were 'volunteered. from a school to assist here.

  10. It is definitely a gripping painting. You have analyzed it well.
    My first thought with the boy in back was that he is looking warningly at those viewing this scene--do not interfere!

  11. interesting interpretation of the picture. I can see that, thanks.

  12. thanks for sharing this wonderful painting. I love the expression on the boy's face in the rear, although I might interpret it a little differently...'so, hey, whatcha lookin' at. ain'tcha never seen two guys carrying an angel?' :)

  13. What a striking painting and fascinating interpretations.

    I remember reading an interview with an artist one about the 'symbolism' in their painting. "Oh," he said dismissively, "There is no symbolism. I was just fooling around with paint techniques!"

    That made me laugh!

    Thanks for a superb link for the letter "S".