Jenny Nyström’s world of Christmas pictures at the Post Museum
The Post Museum’s Christmas exhibition, from 22 November 2007 to 5 January 2008, displays Christmas and New Year’s cards by the Swedish artist Jenny Nyström (1854-1946). Her warm-spirited world of images depicts the Christmas season’s celebrations at the turn of the century in the Nordic countries. This artist is particularly famous as the creator of the Nordic Christmas elf, having also depicted, in abundance, Christmas at home and the old-fashioned genuine Christian Christmas traditions in her cards.
Jenny Nyström became fascinated with the elf at the early age of 17. Having read the fairy tale 'Lille Viggs Äfventyr på Julaftonen’ by Viktor Rydberg (Little Vigg’s adventures on Christmas Eve), she illustrated the tale herself because she was keen on drawing. Illustrated by Ms. Nyström, Rydberg’s story was published as a book in 1875. At this exhibition, visitors can hear the tale in Finnish, translated by Juhani Aho, with the title ‘Pikku Simon seikkailut jouluiltana’.
The lineage and looks of the Christmas tale elf can be traced to gnomes of Scandinavian folklore, as a tiny man with a long beard, a kind of ugly but friendly face and grey clothing with a red cap.
Both Rydberg and Nyström were inspired by the elf later on, as witnessed by the poem ’Tomten’ (the Elf) by Viktor Rydberg in 1881, illustrated by Nyström again. The ‘Tomten’ poem was translated into Finnish in 1916 by Valter Juva as ‘Tonttu’, composed into a song that begins ‘Pakkasyö on, ja leiskuen…” (…’Tis a frosty night, and flaming…)
While Jenny Nyström was particularly fond of her elf, she was also interested in families’ Christmas traditions. On her Christmas cards, families are seen preparing presents and Christmas dishes and collecting the Christmas tree and decorating it. Her depicted celebrations of Christmas holidays include visits to the church, plays around the Christmas tree and outdoor activities in the snowy winter landscape.
Before the Christmas card tradition became established in the early 1900s, people remembered friends by sending them greetings for the New Year. Jenny Nyström’s new year’s cards include a multitude of lucky symbols: four-leaved clovers, horse shoes and, to signify prosperity, bank notes, money bags and pigs.
Jenny Nyström was born in Kalmar, Southern Sweden in 1854. Her art studies began at the Gothenburg art school in 1865 and continued at the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts in Stockholm in 1873. In the 1880s, thanks to a scholarship, she studied in Paris and her art was displayed at the famous Salon de Paris.
The cards, displayed at this Post Museum exhibition in the manner of an art exhibition, are on loan from the collector Teuvo Termonen. Exhibition texts are available in Finnish and Swedish.
The Post Museum, Helsinki General Post Office, Asema-aukio 5 H. Opening hours: Mon-Fri from 9am until 6pm, Sat-Sun from 11am until 4pm. Admission fee €3 or €4. Free admission for visitors under 18 years of age. The Post Museum’s guarantee of satisfaction: if museum visitors are not satisfied with the offerings, the museum will refund the admission fee.