Démasquée (Unmasked)1888 by Akseli Gallen-Kallela

This picture was painted in Paris in 1888. The model is just taking a break from posing, and the portrait has captured her at rest - in an unpretentious yet sensual relaxed position, lightly mocking. The artist has caught her weary smile, the way she is rubbing her hurting feet, the negligent gestures of her hands and arms on the sofa-top blanket, and a black half-mask she is holding in her right hand. (http://www.wga.hu/html/g/gallenka/demasque.html)

The title, Démasquée, means "unmasked" in English.


Démasquée is an exceptionally erotic painting in Akseli Gallen-Kallela's oeuvre. It was apparently commissioned by H.F. Antell, a Finnish collector, but when he saw the painting he rejected it. There are many indications in the picture of what Bohemian life was like in those days; yet submitting to its joys involved a risk of destruction. The lily symbolizing innocence is contrasted with the extremely carnal female model and the guitar whose shape further heightens the sense of the erotic. Attention is also focused on the figure of Death grinning in the background. There are also elements which seem to sully the sacred: the paraphernalia in Gallen-Kallela's studio included a crucifix and a Buddha statue, which seem tainted by association being featured in the same painting as this at once alluring and intimidating female flesh - not to mention the ancient, quintessentially Finnish rya rug. (https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/asset/démasquée/fwE0w5T_rcybzA)


Gallen-Kallela painted his work in Paris, and it shows the naked Parisian Ismallia sitting on a Finnish rug. The painting has been interpreted as representing the moment when the mask of conventionality has been removed and the sheer nakedness of existence is revealed. It has been seen as hinting at the tragedy of the bohemian life, bleakness, pidättelemättömyyttä and even the possibility of death.

Démasquée was commissioned by a Finnish collector Herman Antell, who wanted the painting for his collection of sexually risqué images. However, after seeing it, he did not want it. Perhaps he thought the painting was perhaps too bold and threatening to the omnipotence of men.(Rough Google translation of https://fi.wikipedia.org/wiki/Démasquée)


Some sites say it was painted in oil on canvas, others say tempera on canvas.
Click to select the cover image for this artwork.