Axel Waldemar Gallén was born in Pori, Finland, on the 26th April 1865. In 1876 he moved to the capital, Helsinki, where he attended a Swedish-language high school and studied in the evening classes of the Drawing School of the Finnish Fine Arts Association (1878-1881) and at the Central School of Applied Arts (1880-1881). From 1881-1884 he studied at the Drawing School of the Finnish Fine Arts Association, then from 1884-1889 he continued his studies in Paris at the Académie Julian, the Atelier Cormon and other schools.
It was during his period in Paris that Gallé painted "Démasquée" - 'Unmasked' - showing a Parisian model sitting on a Finnish ryijy weave with a "fin-de-siecle expression of playful exhaustion and nervous vividness." The painting has been interpreted as presenting the moment when the masks of propriety have been removed, leaving only naked existence. It also captures the underlying tragic spirit of the bohemian lifestyle.
In 1890, Gallén married Mary Helena Slöör. Their honeymoon trip to Karelia marked the beginning of the orientation known as Karelianism in Finnish culture. Many important symbolistic works were completed in 1894 and, in the following year, he held a joint exhibition with Edvard Munch in Berlin. The years 1901-1903 were spent painting the frescoes of the Jusélius Mausoleum in Pori. This three-year project was followed by a 'period of purification' during which Gallen-Kallela painted a large number of themes from nature. In 1907 he officially changed his name from Gallén to Gallen-Kallela and, in the same year, he was selected as member of the German expressionist group Die Brücke.
Following a solo exhibition in Budapest, Hungary, and a move to Paris, Gallen-Kallela spent the years from 1909-1911 travelling with his family to British East Africa (present-day Kenya), where he discovered bright, light colours and a more expressive language of form. From 1911-1913 he constructed the Tarvaspää studio-residence. In 1918, upon the invitation of General Mannerheim, Protector of State, Gallen-Kallela designed flags, official decorations and military uniforms for the newly independent Finland. Later he continued on his travels, heading to the United States and living in Chicago from 1923-1924, and Tao, New Mexico, in 1926. During this period he studied the art and culture of Native Americans before returning to Tarvaspää.
In 1931, during his return from delivering a lecture in Copenhagen, Gallen-Kallela contracted pneumonia whilst staying in Stockholm. Akseli Gallen-Kallela died in the Hotel Reisen in Stockholm on the 7th March 1931.
Adapted from the Gallen-Kallelan Museo web site.