Dr Marja Lahelma

Visiting Research Fellow
Marja Lahelma

Sep 2016 - Feb 2017

Home institution

University of Helsinki



Dr Marja Lahelma is an art historian specialising in Nordic art around the year 1900. She has published work on Symbolist art, questions of the self and subjectivity, and on the relationship between art, science, and occultism. She received her PhD from the University of Helsinki in 2014. Dr Lahelma has held lectures at various universities and art institutions, and taught courses in art history at the University of Helsinki and the Academy of Fine Art in Helsinki. She has also worked in the museum field, and organised conferences and other events in collaboration with museums and art galleries.


Symbolism, Decadence, and the North: Nordic Art Around 1900

My research project explores the artistic implications of the concepts of ‘decadence’ and ‘northernness’ within the framework of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Symbolist art and aesthetics in the Nordic countries. In European culture of the period, northernness was associated with notions of purity, authenticity, and vitality; while decadence has overtones of artificiality, morbidity, and perversion. The juxtaposition of these notions highlights their shared background in late nineteenth-century scientific phenomena like Darwinism and racial theory. Within the Nordic context, northernness and decadence become integrated with constructions of cultural hierarchy and national identity, making them exceedingly complex and politically sensitive concepts. The project examines both the mythical and fictional dimensions of these concepts, and the very real impact that they had on the art of the period.