Lake Keitele

Image credit: The National Gallery, London

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This painting shows Lake Keitele in central Finland. The zigzag pattern on the water’s surface is a natural occurrence caused by the interaction of the wind with the lake’s currents, but it is also intended to evoke the wake created by Väinämöinen, the poet-hero of the Finnish saga Kalevala, as he rows across the lake. This epic poem was seen as a founding myth by Finnish nationalists who were seeking autonomy for their country in the late nineteenth century, and reference to it gave Lake Keitele an added political dimension.

Despite the relatively small size of the canvas, Gallen-Kallela creates a feeling of expansive space that brings together meditative stillness and the dynamism of the natural world.

Gallen-Kallela painted three other views of Lake Keitele around 1904–6, all of which show the distinctive zigzag pattern on the water’s surface.

The National Gallery, London



Lake Keitele




Oil on canvas


H 53 x W 66 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

Bought, 1999

Work type



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The National Gallery, London

Trafalgar Square, London, Greater London WC2N 5DN England

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