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With its sparse population, Finland fell under the influence of its neighbors, including Russia, and lacked a cohesive artistic tradition until the 20th century.

With the arrival of the great Alvar Aalto (1898-1976), the architect and designer, Nordic modernism became a style known internationally. In fact, Aalto is called the "Father of Modernism" in Scandinavian countries.

He developed a humanistic approach to building, taking as his first consideration the needs of the person or persons who would occupy a building. By the use of free architectural form, he broke from 1930s functional rigidity. Erik Bryggman (1891-1955), who once worked with Aalto, was another pioneer in architectural modernism.

Eliel Saarinen (1873-1950) broke from the National Romantic style in 1904 and moved toward a complete simplification of form by eliminating all unnecessary ornamentation. His "new" style is best exemplified by the Helsinki Railroad Station, completed in 1923.

The closing decade of the 19th century marked the zenith in the development of modern Finnish painting. Many Expressionist artists were inspired by Edvard Munch of Norway.

Born in 1894, Wäinö Aaltonen became Finland's most outstanding sculptor. He used an Expressionistic style to create statues of such greats as Paavo Nurmi, the famous Finnish athlete.

At the turn of the new millennium, Rafael Wardi, born in 1928, was producing some of the most powerful art works in Finland. He often works in pastel and crayon, as when he depicted his wife, an Alzheimer sufferer, in the hospital among fellow inmates.

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