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Elga Sesemann

Elga Charlotte Sesemann was born in 28 of March in Vyborg in Finland. Nowadays, as a matter of fact, Vyborg belongs to Russia.

She died in 21 of January 2007 in Helsinki, Finland. Elga was a Finnish painter. She started her art career studying in the Finnish Art Academy in Helsinki 1940-1943 and after that in The Free Art School in Helsinki 1943-1944.

She was a prominent expressionist and colourist already in the 1940´s Finland. Instead of a brush she often used a palette knife. Elga Sesemann had her first exhibition in 1943, and her first solo exhibition was in 1945. Her paintings have been exhibited in Helsinki, the capital of Finland, and in all major Finnish towns and in Stockholm, Oslo, Stuttgart, Peking and New York among others. Her work is represented for example at Ateneum (Finnish National Gallery) in Helsinki and in Moderna Museet in Stockholm.

Sesemann married the painter Seppo Näätänen during the total solar eclipse in July 1945. It was rare thing that a wife was more famous than husband and that is one of the things that make people appreciate Elga Sesemann. Elga and her husband Seppo had a studio an apartment in Brändö, Helsinki. In the late 40´s they moved to the house they had built in Ruovesi. It was located just across the lake of Akseli Gallen-Kallela´s house, about 90 kilometers north from the city of Tampere. (Akseli Gallen-Kallela was a Finnish painter who is best known for his illustrations of the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic.) The house had no electricity, water, telephone or even a road. Therefore they lived partly (during the wintertime) in an apartment in the village of Ruovesi.

In the beginning of 1964 Seppo fell ill with cancer so Elga and him travelled by land and sea to India, where the sister of Seppo lived. They made a stop in Egypt, which leaves traces in some paintings. On the 30th of July 1964 Seppo died, and was buried in Bangalore, India.

Elga Sesemann made her living as an artist during all her life. She also made some commissioned portraits. Elga was granted state artist pension in 1982. Her family, in both sides, have German heritage. Elga spoke German with her mother, Russian with her father and Finnish with her husband, which became her first language. She also spoke Swedish. Elga´s father, Edgar Sesemann, was a technical director at a linseed oil factory in Tienhaara, born 1889 in Tbilisi, Georgia (then Russia), and he died on the 3rd of May 1939 in Tienhaara, Vyborg (then Finland). Elga´s mother was Olga Sesemann who was born in 1895 in Gori, Georgia, and died in 1981 in Helsinki.

When the war broke out in 1939, Elga was seventeen years old. In her school, in Vyborg, only about 60 kilometers from the border of Russia, the principal came in to the class room and declared that everybody had to go home immediately, and school was closed until further notice. It was the best day of Elga´s life.

She and her family were evacuated from Vyborg to Helsinki. Her autobiography Kuvajaisia – Erään omakuvan taustamaisemaa (”Reflections – the background of a self portrait”) was published in 1959. It is mainly based on her childhood. Elga was self-willed and uncompromising. When the principal of the Art Academy in 1943 ”corrected” with his own brush and pink colour the green skin tone of Elga´s nude, she changed school. She found her own path in life. She hardly painted at all after the 1995 due to eye diseases. When Elga was 80 years old, in 2002, she made her poetry debut by publishing a collection of poems.

In the 21st of January 2007 Elga Sesemann died in a hospital in Helsinki as a result of a pneumonia. The funeral took place at the German Church in Helsinki and she was buried in the family grave at Sandudden´s Cemetery, Helsinki. The work of Elga Sesemann has been greatly appreciated and received attention during recent years, partly due to significant exhibitions by Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Tampere Art Museum, Millesgården in Stockholm and Scandinavian House in New York.

Text written in March 2019.

Short bio of the volunteer:

Anni Ruskela, a volunteer from Kajaani, Finland.


Erasmus+ is a programme of the European Commission embracing the fields of education, training, youth and sports during the period 2014-2020. One of the major aspects is the cooperation between the different fields where the programme acts, hence contributing for a diverse and rich Europe.

Amongst the several goals of the programme, the following are prioritised: the objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy, including the headline education target; the aims of the strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (ET 2020), including the corresponding benchmarks; the sustainable development of Partner Countries in the field of higher education; the overall goals of the renewed framework for European cooperation in the youth field (2010-2018); the objective of developing the European dimension in sport, in particular grassroots sport, in line with the EU work plan for sport and the promotion of European values in accordance with Article 2 of the Treaty on the European Union.

In order to achieve these goals, the Erasmus+ has several action policies. The Key Action 1 (KA1) is directed towards the mobility of people; Key Action 2 (KA2) for the cooperation for innovation and the interchange of good experiences; and Key Action 3 (KA3) which is for the support of reformation policies.

European Voluntary Service

Since 1991 the University of Madeira Students’ Union has developed a wide incentive policy for voluntary work. In 2013 the Students’ Union started the process to receive, send and coordinate Erasmus+ projects of the European Voluntary Service, in order to have a larger influence in the volunteering field. The Union received its first volunteer withing the ambit of a KA1 project in 2014. Many efforts have been done to allow young people from Madeira to take part in several initiatives in Europe, as well as propose several projects allowing young people from several countries to work in the projects of the Students’ Union of the University of Madeira. The main goal of the voluntary work is the contribution of the volunteers to the communities and places they will be staying, being their work not rewarded with payment.

We believe that the European Voluntary Service is a mechanism full of experiences, allowing the approved candidates to have the privilege of taking part in these projects and benefit the places and communities where these volunteers will be staying.

Since 2013, the University of Madeira Students’ Union has received volunteers that have collaborated in several activities and initiatives. Besides being able to enjoy a wonderful experience which will contribute to their personal and professional growth, they are able to contribute in a unique way to the community in which they are inserted and to join dozens of volunteers from the University of Madeira.