ELENA SCHUVALOFF-MAIJALA: the Finnish nature as an icon dedicated to our inner self

If artistry is a process requiring the ability to dig into own life experiences and relentlessly train in own art techniques to reach a deeper level of personal expression, then Elena Schuvaloff-Maijala champions at illustrating this marvelous ability through her genuine, nearly childish, pleasure of painting combined with the discipline of an artisan working on a masterpiece. With her “Nature’s nature” show at gallery Oljemark successfully closed and a collective exhibition at the Art museum in Lahti still going on, I seize the opportunity to meet with an artist whose exploration of nature coincides with the one of her own identity and roots, mixing the golden leafs used in the making of the icons inherited from her Russian ancestors’ past to the mystical naturalness of birch trees of her own Finnish life.

– Could you tell us about your family’s early involvement in arts and how it worked on your imagination as a child?

As a child, I was surrounded by the gold, silver of our family’s Russian icons and other precious stones of our jewelry collection but also by Ilya Repin’s paintings and drawings as my grandfather, Aleksandr Schuvaloff, a renowned Russian chocolate maker, and later my own father, Nicolaï Schuvaloff, an art dealer, were fans and sponsors of his art. Our family constituted a collection of about 500 pieces of Repin’s art work while they had neighboring cottages in Kuokkola. As a result of this close relationship, our family also possessed numerous photos and documents related to his life in Finland, where he emigrated after the Russian revolution, as did my own family. This archives fund is now in the possession of the Finnish central art archives. My mother, Marina Akutin, was a classical oil painter of landscapes , still lives and portrays who, alongside my father, gave me my first drawing and painting classes (on the right side, Maria Akutin “birches”). My bedtime stories were rarely fairy tales but rather anecdotes and stories of Repin’s artisitic life.

–       Your main source of inspiration is the Finnish nature and in particular its birches… Is it replacing the icons of your childhood?

–       In my atelier in Snappertuna (Raasepori) where the main sources of my inspiration lie, I have a breathtaking view on birches and reeds on the seashore, which I have represented in many paintings. I love them during the darker Finnish seasons… I love everything about them: how they stand in a landscape but also their beautiful multilayered texture. I have a birch tree in my atelier to support my work on their structure. Symbolically, Snappertuna, is also a place symbolizing the inner confrontation of the various cultures I was raised in: Russian, Finnish, Swedish and French.

–       Your art of oil painting owes a lot to Eila Ekman-Björkmann who further taught you the technique of oil painting. Can you tell us a few words about your relationship to her and her painting universe and also evoke the Viipurin Taiteilijan seura to which both of you belong and celebrates its 80 years of existence with a retrospective at Lahti at the Ladhen taidemuseo?

I got to learn Eila Ekman-Björkman in the middle of eighties.  First she was like a teacher to me and little by little our relationship turned into a deep friendship with respect for each other’s art.  Eila’s works are fauvist and expressionist, full of colour and energy.  I guess pure colours and precise forms are common to our art besides the viewer can always find new elements to consider when looking at our works.  We however paint differently although the insight is similarly deep.  My new way of painting has turned into a more and more realistic expression.  We are also united by our love for music.

Concerning the Viipurin Taiteilijaseura, to which Eila and I belong, it is an old and respected art society in Finland which celebrates its 80 years of existence this year.  Eila’s and my roots are in Viipuri: Eila was born there and so was my mother, also a member of this art society.

Elena Schuvaloff-Maijala’s life is as beautiful as a Russian novel where the reader goes through all kind extreme feelings, experiencing the beauty and ugliness of the world, with deep nostalgia and strong relation to own history. Her paintings reflect this inner generosity in the richness of materials and techniques she uses to sublimate the iconic elements of the Finnish landscapes and constitute an invitation to marvel at the Nordic nature through her eyes.

(text still subject to modifications)


  • On your agenda this month:

To know more about Elena Schuvaloff-Maijala’s work, please consult: www.elenamaijala.com ; More information about Elena’s exhibition at the art museum in Lahti (until 14th November) http://www.lahdenmuseot.fi/main.php?id=84

Ilya Repin’s work is displayed at the Metropolitan museum in the US, at the National Gallery in the UK and State Russian museum in Saint-Petersburg for example. He did lots of portraits of personalities of his time (from Nicolas II to Tolstoï nobody escaped his talented brush) and remains known in art history as the head of school Russian realism essentially representing social scenes.

http://www.fng.fi/fng/rootnew/fi/kka/valokuvakokoelmat/kka-arkistot-kokoelmat-valokuvat-ns.htm and also the article

“Nikolai Schuvaloffin arkisto – Ilja Repin ja venäläistä emigrantti historiaa” http://www.fng.fi/fng/html4/fi/archive/news/doku2_02/d0202.pdf

  • For fans of birches, reeds and seashore the Finnish way:

Suon satu by Aaro Hellaakoski

Turhaan turhan vuoksi

Kakki tapahtuu.

Hiljasuuden  luoksi

kasvoi koivupuu

laitaan suuren suo-maan,

jossa lahotaan

harmajainsa huomaan


nosti sinne viirin

pienen viehreän,

yli soitten piirin


Suuremmiksi taitaan

Tulla kuin on tuo,

Noussut soitten laitaan

Hiljai suuden luo.

Harmeenko  suoksi

Sekin  koivupuu?

Turhaan  turhan  vuoksi

Kaikki  tapahtuu.

I could not resist adding some poems inspired by birch trees and Elena Schuvaloff-Maijala’s exhibition written by our 8 years old daughter.

Koivu by

Solveig Pöysti

Kun  koivun  kauniin  näin,

Halusin  heti  juosta  päin.

Oli  se  niin  kaunis,

Että  jopa  kauris

Oli  kateellinen.

Surullinen koivu by  Solveig  Pöysti

Kun  surullisen  koivun  näin,

Menin  surullisena  kotiin  päin.

Oli  se  niin  surullinen,

Että  oli  strutsin  otettava  kurkullinen  teetä.

Iloinen koivu by   Solveig Pöysti

Näin  iloisen  koivun  niin,

Että  halusin  heti  mennä  purkkiin.

Niin  iloisen  koivun  olin  nähnyt,

Että  osasin  jo  tehdä  kärryt.

Naurava koivu by  Solveig Pöysti

Näin  nauravan  koivun,

Halusin   kuulla  kauniin  soinnun.

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