Young Magnus Enckell was one of the leading figures of the Golden Age of Finnish art. Since his first trip to Paris in 1891, he was strongly influenced by the mysticism and romantic symbolism of the arts and literature of the age. Around the turn of the century, Enckell’s art which to begin with was based on an ascetic palette, drawing skills and the classical style of depicting the human form took on a more painterly quality.
Having met A.W. Finch, a Belgian-English artist living in Finland, and later Sigurd Fosterus, a young architect-art critic, Enckell discovered the new colours of the Post-Impressionist style of painting. After completing the large fresco for Johanneksen kirkko church in Tampere in 1907, he focused on depicting light-filled landscapes and island scenery with pure unadulterated colours. His first fresh atmospheric images include Abutments outside Helsinki (1908) and spontaneous watercolour and gouache sketches of Helsinki harbour in the early spring of 1909.
Boys on the Shore is one of the high points of Enckell’s colourist period. The work, related to the boy themes of the artist’s early years, was painted in 1910 on Suursaari, a large rocky island in the middle of the eastern Gulf of Finland, now part of Russia. That summer Enckell worked on the island with Verner Thomé. Both artists sought eagerly to apply the new theories of Neo-Impressionism. Thomé developed into an orthodox pointillist while Enckell continued to use pure, bright colours but with longer brush strokes retaining the contours and the unity of form. In his work Boys on the Shore Enckell strove to capture the light and the atmosphere of a hot cloudless afternoon. The work relies on the bold comparison of contrasting colours – yellow and violet, orange and blue – so that even the blue shadows seem warm In February 1911, Enckell travelled to Paris to prepare for a commission by Nylands nation, a student association at the University of Helsinki, for the ornamentation of the entrance hall of the club house. In the spring he perpetuated the view from his hotel window over the River Seine and Pont Royal. In the foreground there is a queue of horse-drawn carriages and a leafless tree behind which are two long barges moved to a jetty. The building on the opposite side is Le Pavillon de Flore. In Paris he was inspired by the subdued colours of Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard, whose influence is apparent, for example, in the Pont Royal painting. To supplement the bright and pure violets and greens he discovered a range of more subdued, mixed colours which softened the overall impression. Enckell interpreted the life of the seaside promenade like the Impressionists, in quick airy impressions. In 1912, the Septem Group inspired by the colourful trends of cosmopolitan art held its first exhibition in Helsinki. Enckell, a co-founder of the Group together with Thomé and Finch, showed fourteen works at the exhibition, including his Pont Royal painting and three other Parisian views painted on the River Seine.