Jalmari Ruokokoski

1886 –1936

Jalmari Ruokokoski is considered the first true bohemian artist in Finland. He was an entertainer and a clown who loved parties, the circus and the theatre. Roukokoski’s career got off to a flying start in the early 1910s, in only a matter of years he produced an unprecedented number of superb Expressionist paintings alight with colour.

In the late autumn of 1912, Ruokokoski travelled, together with fellow artist Juho Mäkelä, to Helsingör in Denmark to stay with the Danish master tailor Rydeng. Rydeng was an old friend of Tyko Sallinen and an art collector, in whose house Finnish and other Nordic artists were welcome to live and work. During his stay in Helsingör Ruokokoski was overcome by an overwhelming urge to paint. Over a period of five weeks he produced 59 paintings, mostly portraits of the Rydeng family, including a portrait of the matron-like Mrs Rydeng, which is now part of the Amos Anderson art collection.

At the beginning of 1913, Ruokokoski returned to Helsinki. In February he held a much talked-about exhibition at the Ateneum where all the 60 paintings exhibited were sold. In the first flush of triumph Ruokokoski, who had a tendency to drink, embarked on a drinking spree that lasted for weeks. The merriment ended abruptly, once the money had been spent, his circus artist wife Elvira walked out on him.

Later on that year, the restless artist travelled to Paris. Having taken to drink he only managed to complete a few landscapes, a portrait and a captivating as well as enigmatic self-portrait. The self-portrait is executed in a spontaneous and sketch-like style typical of Roukokoski, with parts of the brown cardboard base peeking through. The painting shows a bleary-eyed, grumpy artist whose greenish pallor speaks of distress and anguish. Two galloping nudes appear in the background. Were they perhaps sweet muses or ferocious tigresses bent on his destruction? Extrovert and fun loving in company, Ruokokoski’s pictures reveal the artist’s darker side. Many of his self-portraits show a serious, sometimes arrogant artist; the interpretations are psychologically related to the heart-rending self-reflections of Edvard Munch.