Find Onni here – is the slogan of Joensuu Art Museum ONNI located in the centre of the busy city. The word ‘onni’ means happiness and luck in Finnish.

Someone may be interested in finding out how people searched for happiness in ancient cultures or during the Chinese dynasties. Another person may wonder just how lucky Saint Catherine had been, featuring in a Renaissance painting.  Many visitors also come to the art museum to see The Parisienne by painter Albert Edelfelt, a vision of the phase of his life filled with sensual pleasures.

Searching for happiness

The 50-year-old Joensuu Art Museum provides a unique opportunity in Finland to enjoy the artistic accomplishments of different periods and cultures. You can start the journey from a room of Ancient history, and stop for a while to admire the small Dionysos and Demeter sculptures. Ancient Greeks placed these sculptures on their home altars to bring luck to both farming and fertility.

One of the indisputable favourites of Joensuu Art Museum is Virginie painted by Albert Edelfelt at the end of the 19th century

During the dynasties of China, a colourful Fo lion resembling a pet, was regarded as a lucky charm. The lion sitting on a pedestal is often depicted with objects attracting good luck: a brush, an inkstick, an inkplate and paper. On the right, there might be a peony flower and a pine tree, and at the back, a Taiji symbol repelling evil spirits. A male lion is often depicted with a ball under his paw. In addition to the aforementioned, traditional Chinese art has a special trinity of three gods: Prosperity, Status and Longevity, Fu, Lu and Shou.  The concept of luck is strongly linked with procreation, especially giving birth to sons. Various different gods were used to bring forth the luck of having children. The god of luck is often depicted in a silk costume and holding a child. The search for good fortune is a popular subject in art and handicraft.

Travelling with luck

In the Madonna room resembling a chapel, you can admire the richness of Catholic Madonna art in a spiritual environment. The space is filled with a warm glow and decorativeness unusual for Nordic simplicity.

On the side wall, there is a part of a triptych. Its counterpart is located in the Hungarian National Museum in Budapest. The painting depicts Saint Catherine of Alexandria. Legend has it that she was a learned and beautiful maiden with the courage to criticise the emperor for idolatry. When Catherine refused to marry the emperor and deny her own faith, an attempt was made to murder her with a spiked breaking wheel depicted in the painting. This time, Catherine was lucky, as the wheel shattered into pieces and Catherine survived. Eventually, however, she was beheaded. The story goes that a milk-like substance rather than blood flowed from her neck, and angels carried her body to Mount Sinai.

In the Madonna room, a large-scale Madonna and Child painting by Bernardo Daddi grabs the visitor’s attention. Art historian and collector Onni Okkonen bought it in 1955 from an art dealer in Florence. At first, the artwork was in the Ateneum Art Museum, but it was later moved to Joensuu. After decades of research, the painting was confirmed to be produced by Daddi, and extremely rare in the Nordic countries. Joensuu also received other unusual artworks from Onni Okkonen’s collection, such as Chinese art dating back to the dynasties and antique Greek and Roman objects. As a result, the museum was named Onni after the collector.

Sensual pleasures

One of the indisputable favourites at Joensuu Art Museum is Virginie painted by Albert Edelfelt at the end of the 19th century. Edelfelt is known to have had a passionate love affair with the Parisian model. Edelfelt thrived in the Parisian life, surrounded by joy and sensual pleasures. In his early career, Edelfelt painted various artworks depicting petite Parisiennes. These paintings were also popular amongst buyers.  The Virginie painting in Joensuu also gives an indication of other fashions of the time, such as eastern elements popular in interiors.

Ulla Pennanen, Curator, Joensuu Art Museum