Elisabeth Järnefelt — a Russian mother of Finnish culture

The name Järnefelt known, perhaps, for each Finn. Members of the clan Jarnefelt entered their names in the cultural history of the country: in any Finnish textbook the textbook picture of “Arson” brush Eero Jarnefelt illustrating the life of Finnish peasants. Brother Eero Arvid was well-known writer and one of the first translators of Tolstoy, in Finnish language, and the daughter Aino became the Muse and wife of the national composer Jean Sibelius. Jarnefelt was the brightest representatives of the Golden age of Finnish culture, but few people among the Finns remember that these stars are on the creative horizon of Finnish 19th-century lit thanks to their mother, Elisabeth Järnefelt, nee Elizabeth K. Klodt von Klodt von.

At the art Museum of järvenpää 11.02. opened an exhibition dedicated to the life and work of Elisabeth Järnefelt, a reminder that art which is now considered as the quintessence of the Finnish national consciousness, actually has its roots in the intermingling of several cultures and bears the imprint of both Russian and French and Swedish cultural traditions.

Petersburg and the family of Kladow

Surname Clodt enjoys almost more famous than Järnefelt, but beyond the Eastern border. The family of Kladow came from a Baltic German aristocrats, and many of its members chose an artistic career, despite the success of military career. So, the sculptor Pyotr Karlovich Klodt, uncle Elizabeth, is the author of famous sculpture groups “horse Tamers” on Anichkov bridge in Saint-Petersburg and many other well-known sculptures, installed in Russia and Europe. The family also had several famous artists, including landscape painter M. K. Klodt and M. P. Klodt — the artist-itinerant, author of illustrations to the novels of Dostoevsky and restorer at the Hermitage.

Elizabeth, then, Lisa, from early childhood was surrounded by art and grew up in a creative atmosphere. Friends described her as cheerful, cheerful, keen on poetry and literature of the girl, who was also a talented pianist.

With her future husband Alexander Jarnefelt, a native of the impoverished Swedish-speaking noble family, Elizabeth met with his brother Nicholas, with whom the young Alexander studied at the Mikhailovsky artillery school.


The wedding took place in 1857. Few years, young moved from place to place, and then for a long time settled in Vyborg, where Alexander decided that the home language of the family, which by that time had already three children, will be Finnish.

Alexander Järnefelt, despite its Swedish roots, was an ardent fanfilm and advocated for the strengthening of the position of the Finnish language and the awakening of national consciousness. Nanny in the family Jarnefelt was Finnish, and younger children are not so well spoken in Russian, as the older Kasper, Arvid, both of which subsequently was closely involved in the translation from Russian.

Alexander Järnefelt, among other things, was one of the founders of the Finnish literature Society, was part of the so-called Finnish club and was a member of the Board of the Finnish theatre. In the house Jarnefelt held a weekly meeting of fenomenov, and these techniques, Elizabeth acted as hostess and often was the only woman.

Creative family and literary salons

In the family Jarnefelt on light there were 9 children: Kasper, Arvid, Eero, Ellida, Ellen, Armas, Aino, Hilja and Sigrid. But if the sons of the family were distinguished health and outstanding creative abilities, the daughters seemed to attracted bad luck. The two younger daughters, Sigrid and Hilla, died very young. Ellida — or Lida — lived to be twenty years old and died from complications of tuberculosis. Ellen — Ellie — suffered from mental problems and committed suicide… Of the sisters just Aino, the former darling of the father, lived to a ripe old age married to Jean Sibelius.

The Union of Elizabeth and Alexander, in spite of nine children, happy to say, were difficult to live and easy Elizabeth hard to get along with pedantic and dull husband, who, moreover, spent much time in business trips. In fact, Elizabeth and Alexander were separated, but divorce in those days people did not think, even in more complex situations.

At the time, while Alexander spent time in research expeditions in the Balkans, Elizabeth opened the doors of their homes for young people, organizing themselves literary salon, such as those that attracted the cultural elite in France and in Russia. In the salon of Elisabeth Järnefelt was going bright Finnish students, genofile who fought for the creation of a new national culture. At the same time spiritual food they served the texts of Gogol, Dostoevsky, Turgenev, Tolstoy and Ibsen.

Despite the fact that Elisabeth Järnefelt was fluent in Finnish (in this she was greatly assisted by the sons of the first letter to which in the Finnish language came back to her mother’s back, lavishly decorated with patches), it often felt like a stranger in Finland and wondered, not if she raised sons are too Russian? How, thought the mother, they will find their place under the Finnish sun?

Time will put everything in its place. Children of Elisabeth Järnefelt laid the foundations and contributed to the flourishing Golden age of Finnish culture, despite the fact that the mother tongue of their father was Swedish and mother — Russian. In a literary salon Elizabeth ascended and matured the germs of national romanticism, from which came such masters of Finnish art, as the artist Gallen-Kallela, and composer Sibelius and writer Juhani Aho.

Defender of the rights of women

Elisabeth Järnefelt was also one of the first to advocate for women’s rights in Finland. She fought for equality and the right to self-determination of the Finnish women. Her ideas seemed a little too radical for the time. So, she believed that women should be free, including sexually and should have the right to dispose of themselves regardless of the wishes of the parents or other relatives.


After fifty, having survived a series of losses and crises in his personal life, Elisabeth Järnefelt tried to find solace in religious and philosophical teachings of Tolstoy. Her son Arvid was one of the first Tolstoyans in Finland, he was in correspondence by Tolstoy and translated into Finnish language as his philosophical writings, and literary texts.

After the death of her husband and daughter Ellie, Elizabeth is very involved in the doctrine of Leo Tolstoy and his ideals. The remaining after the death of Alexander the money Elizabeth bought a piece of land near Lohja and together with his sons and sister Olga often come from Russia, began to lead a simple and humble life according to the teachings of Tolstoy. They cultivated the land, engaged in teaching farmers were literary evenings and tried to make their life answered Tolstoy’s ethical thesis, the main of which would be failure to exploit the labor of others.

Despite the enthusiasm and the desire to live according to the precepts of nestyazhatelstva, life in the village was not easy, and at the end of life Elizabeth moved to Helsinki. After Finland gained independence, Elizabeth, lost military pension, which she received as the widow of an officer of the Russian army, and she had to exist in modest circumstances, which, however, was not shattered her spirit. Until the end of life Elizabeth kept in touch with his children and numerous grandchildren that she, in particular, studied the Russian language.

Elisabeth Järnefelt died in 1929 in Helsinki.

Exhibition dedicated to the life of Elisabeth Järnefelt, opened at the art Museum of järvenpää until October of this year.