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Crafting the Nation: national styles in art and architecture c.1900 – five online talks by Dr Shona Kallestrup

posted on 22/01/24



This lively series of talks explores the so-called ‘national styles’ that emerged in art and architecture across Europe at the turn of the 20th century. Spurred by the politics of both liberalism and nationalism, Europe’s national minorities became increasingly vociferous in their quest for recognition. Art offered them a supreme vehicle for the construction of regional/national identity on the one hand, and its international dissemination at world fairs on the other.

Emerging most strongly in the subject nations of wider polities, for example Finland, Norway, Hungary or Polish Galicia, as well as in newly independent countries like Romania, the search for a ‘national style’ in art looked to a range of different sources: historical, mythological, vernacular, or rooted in local landscapes and nature. The results were vivid, fantastical and powerfully political. From Norwegian dragons to Karelian myths, from the Hungarian rehabilitation of Attila the Hun to the Polish fascination with the Górale peasants of Zakopane, these ‘national styles’ partook in a pan-European promotion of the distinctly local. Their legacy can be felt in the carefully curated and naturalised mythologies of national identity in these regions today.

They take place every Tuesday from 14th May to 11th June at 4.30pm and, including Q&A, will probably last just under an hour. They are available for viewing for eight weeks after the last episode is streamed (6th August 2024).

Register for the webinar series for £65

The talks

1. Norway (May 14th 2024)

Ruled from the 14th century by Denmark, then by Sweden after the Napoleonic Wars, Norway only gained independence in 1905. In a search for national identity, artists and architects turned to the rediscovery of Viking heritage, to Norway’s ancient wooden stave churches and to renewed interest in vernacular culture and husflid (home industries). The resulting ‘dragon style’, developed by designers like Gerhard Munthe and Lars Kinsarvik, became hugely popular both at home and abroad, while the work of the Lysaker artists and Stavanger weaver Frida Hansen exemplified the international dynamics at play in the creation of a ‘national’ art scene.

2. Finland (May 21st 2024)

Intensified Russification at the end of the 19th century stimulated a strong national romantic movement in the Finnish lands of the Romanov empire. Vibrant interest in the eastern region of Karelia, following the publication of Elias Lönnrot’s The Kalevala (1835), drew ethnographers and artists to study building types, music and folk art. The result was an extraordinarily innovative new language of national form pioneered by the architectural partnership of Saarinen, Gesellius and Lindgren and conveyed to the world at the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle.

3. Hungary (May 28th 2024)

The 1867 Ausgleich Agreement made Hungary a separate unit within a dual Habsburg monarchy and stimulated a vigorous search for the essence of Magyar identity. The Hungarians turned East, to their nomadic ancestors from the Asian steppes, and began a process of self-orientalising that foregrounded Attila the Hun and gave special value to the remote Székely people of Transylvania as the preservers of ‘true’ Magyar forms. Architects such as Ödön Lechner (the ‘Hungarian Gaudí’) evolved a distinctive national style that married modern innovation with Eastern forms and vernacular textile patterns.

4. Polish Galicia (June 4th 2024)

As a nation without a state in the 19th century, partitioned Poles sought national identity through art, with romantic painters and poets becoming national memory and voice. Habsburg-ruled Polish Galicia, which enjoyed greater freedom from censorship than the Prussian or Russian partitions, saw vibrant centres of artistic experimentation emerge in Kraków (which produced the universalist, nationalist and visionary Stanisław Wyspiański) and Lemberg/Lwów/L’viv (a focus not only for Polish national aspirations but also for the Ruthenian national revival movement). Other artists, such as Stanisław Witkiewicz, turned for inspiration to the Górale culture of the remote Podhale region around Zakopane.

5. Romania (June 11th 2024)

As an independent kingdom from 1881, Romania’s national style was driven by different dynamics to the countries already discussed. Shutting its doors on the East, it initially embraced Western forms (most notably in the ‘cradle of the nation’, Castle Peleș) as a way of gaining a foothold on the world stage. By 1900, however, it witnessed increasing criticism of wholescale Westernisation and a search for an intrinsically ‘Romanian’ language of form, drawn from its own Byzantine traditions and the artistic ‘spirit’ of the Romanian peasant. As well as the rich ‘neo-Romanian’ architecture of the followers of Ion Mincu, the ‘national’ movement also found original expression in the projects of British-born Queen Marie.

Image: Askeli Gallen-Kallela, The Defence of the Sampo, 1896.

The speaker

Dr Shona Kallestrup

A lecturer in the School of Art History at the University of St Andrews, Dr Kallestrup is a specialist in turn-of-the-century art and architecture. Trained at St Andrews and the Warburg Institute, she has also worked at the Universities of Aberdeen and Copenhagen and, from 2018–21, was a Senior Research Fellow at New Europe College in Bucharest. She has published widely on national identity construction in the 19th and 20th centuries: her books include Art and Design in Romania 1866-1927: local and international aspects of the search for national expression (2006) and the edited volumes Periodization in the Art Historiographies of Central and Eastern Europe (2022) and Nordic Design in Translation: the circulation of objects, ideas and practices (2023).

Register for the webinar series for £65

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A recording will be uploaded to a dedicated webpage approximately two hours after the live broadcast. For copyright reasons, these recordings cannot be made available indefinitely; access is granted for eight weeks after the final live broadcast of the series.

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