VERNER THOME (1878-1953)
VITALISM (c.1900-1950) Biography

Playing Children (Finland, 1913)

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Oil on canvas
Signed and dated 1913 lower right


140.00cm high
230.00cm wide
(55.12 inches high)
(90.55 inches wide)
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Possibly commissioned for the Central Railway Station, Helsinki
Ivar Hörhammer, purchased from the artist in 1913; by descent to:
Marius Hörhammer; by descent to:
The Hörhammer family, Sweden; to 2004


Ingerborg Ydstie, Livskraft, Vitalismen som kunstnerisk impuls 1900-1930, Munch Museet, Oslo, 2006, illustrated page 42

Exhibition History

Oslo, Munch Museum, Livskraft, Vitalismen som kunstnerisk impuls 1900-1930, 17 February - 17 April 2006

Description / Expertise

Playing Children is one in a series of subjects where the artist explored Vitalism, a German-Scandinavian movement which incorporated Nietzsche's philosophy and the biological theories of Hans Driesch and Ernst Haeckel. Artists were encouraged to explore the theme of human perfection in relation to nature. The subject of Playing Children was first commissioned by the Swedish Primary School at Bangatan 5, Helsinki, where a similar interpretation, dated 1912, exists as a mural. A second version was commisioned by the Central Railway Station in Helsinki, which most likely is the present painting, dated 1913. It was acquired by the artist’s patron, Ivar Hörhammer, directly from the artist, probably the year that it was painted.

Verner Thomé was born in Alajärvi, Finland and died in Helsinki. His first employment was at the Tilgmans Lithographical Company, which was the first commercial poster publisher to commission designs by contemporary Finnish artists; for example the famous BIL-BOL poster by Axeli Gallen-Kallela. At the same time, he attended the University Art School in Helsinki under the supervision of Albert Gebhard and Fredrik Ahlstedt. During 1898-9, Thomé attended the drawing school at the Finnish League of Artists under Helene Schjerfbeck and in 1901 & 1902 he studied in Munich at the Bavarian Royal Academy of Art. Back in Finland, he spent the following seven summers at Hogland, on the Balic coast, working with the Finnish artist Magnus Enckell, a symbolist artist who was a forerunner of the Vitalists.

Verner Thomé made his debut at the Exhibition of Finnish Artists in 1903 in Helsinki. The next year he travelled to Paris, Spain and Morocco and 1906 he visited Italy and then spent six months in southern France. On arrival back in Finland he became a founder member of the Septem Group of Finnish artists and, from 1912 onwards, contributed regularly to the group’s exhibitions in Finland and abroad (1916, Exhibition of Finnish Art, at the Liljevalchs Konsthall in Stockholm; 1917, Exhibition of Finnish Art in St Petersburg, Russia; 1923, Exhibition of Finnish Art in Gothenburg, Sweden). In 1922, Thomé was elected a member of the Finnish Academy of Arts in Helsinki.

The Septem Group was founded in 1909 and named after the number of its co-founders. They were Alfred William Finch and Knut Magnus Enckell; Yrjö Ollila (1887–1932); Mikko Oinonen (1883–1956); Juho Rissanen; Ellen Thesleff; and Verner Thomé. The formation of the group was prompted by the poor reception of a Finnish exhibition in Paris in 1908, where critics claimed that Finnish art was dull and gloomy. The Septem Group’s inspiration came from a Franco-Belgian exhibition held in Helsinki in 1904 which included Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist by Paul Signac, Henri Edmond Cross, Théo Van Rysselberghe and Willie Finch among others; works styles virtually unknown in Finland at the time. Willie Finch had been one of the co-founders of Les XX in Belgium and had, since 1897, been living in Finland, where he was the director of the ceramics department of the Iris factory in Porvoo. His friendship with Signac and Seurat made him more than qualified to introduce their innovative artistic originality to Finland.

In the early 20th century, National Romanticism, with its poetic renderings of nature’s moods, it’s concern for dreamers, sleeping towns, and landscapes at dusk, was replaced by Vitalism; the palette became lighter and the form freer. Vitalism portrayed a positivistic view of life based on the Nietzschean model. Deriving from the great tradition of figure painting, the male nude became a symbol of power, juxtaposed with the physical environment and the forces of nature. The sun and the sea form the elixir of life and are the elemental forces against which man flexes his muscles. Vitalism can be seen as another manifestation of the international progression that leads to Expressionism; a style and philosophy that was eagerly adopted by the younger generation.

Verner Thomé’s painting Playing Children is an important contribution to the Vitalist Movement, and one of the most important paintings in the artist’s oeuvre, executed at the peak of his artistic development. The Hörhammer family were well-known collectors, acquired Playing Children in 1913, directly from the artist. The family later established themselves as one of the leading art galleries in Finland. Playing Children has, since its acquisition, descended within the family until the present day.