A Roomful Of Serenity In Trafalgar Square

Lake Keitele, The National Gallery ★★★☆☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 16 months ago

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A Roomful Of Serenity In Trafalgar Square Lake Keitele, The National Gallery 3
The serenity of Lake Keitele, a painting we love. © The National Gallery, London

A cool blue lake transports us into this peaceful wilderness with winds causing a criss-crossing pattern on the surface of the water. A lone island sits still in the middle of the lake while the sky is just visible at the very top.

Gallen-Kallela's other landscapes are useful for context but not as strong as his Lake Keiteles. © Gallen-Kallela Museum / photo Jukka Paavola

This is Lake Keitele by Akseli Gallen-Kallela. It's the only Finnish painting in The National Gallery's collection. Well it was, but now there's a room dedicated to this painter in a free exhibition. All four versions of Lake Keitele have been reunited, alongside other works by Gallen-Kallela, allowing visitors to appreciate his full range.  

It's great to see his wider works including one made from stained glass, but it's the four versions of the lake that take centre stage; they are, rightly, the works he is remembered for. His other paintings feel a bit too chocolate box and lack the depth and mystery that Lake Keitele has, provided by its washed out colours and wilful ignorance of the rules that suggest there should be a chunk of sky in a painting.

A rare stained glass effort from the artist. © Gallen-Kallela Museum / photo Hannu Aaltonen

We love Lake Keitele, but have never before appreciated its patriotic relevance. For Finland, it's symbolic of the struggle for political autonomy, first from Sweden and then from Russia, and so it's fitting that we get to see all versions of this painting in the year marking the centenary of Finnish independence.

Many years ago we were wandering through The National Gallery's bustling Impressionism section, showcasing the expressive brushstrokes of Van Gogh and the vibrant colours of Renoir. When we stumbled across the cool blue serenity of Lake Keitele, it felt like a beacon of stillness in the chaos around us. That's what made us fall in love with the work the first time around so it's odd to see it surrounded by other calm works — the result is that it loses a lot of its impact.

A more picturesque landscape.

Having said this, it's still a fantastic set of works and great to see the minor variations between each version of the lake. It's a lovely dose of serenity just inside the main entrance after you've entered via the chaos of Trafalgar Square.

Lake Keitele: A Vision of Finland at The National Gallery, Room 1 is on until 4 February 2018. Entrance is free.

Last Updated 24 November 2017