I am currently reading Alex Ross's excellent history of twentieth century classical music, The Rest is Noise. In Chapter 5, "Apparition from the Woods: The Loneliness of Jean Sibelius" (an edited version of which is available online), Ross describes Sibelius's descent into alcoholism by referring to a painting:
A widely discussed painting by the Finnish artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela, “The Problem,” depicted Sibelius drinking with friends, his eyes rolled back in his head.
Just as with his earlier discussion of photographs of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern posing in the uniforms of the Austrian army, no associated image is contained in the glossy centre pages of the book. So I thought I would post some more information and images here, so that other people reading the book can easily see what Ross is describing (unfortunately I haven't yet been able to find the army photographs online). It turns out that The Problem is more frequently referred to under the Finnish titles Probleemi or Kajustaflan, and that it was in fact a draft for the later work Symposion. Here it is:
And here is the later work Symposion:
The other figures in the paintings are (left to right) the painter himself, the composer and critic Oskar Merikanto, the conductor Robert Kajanus, and Sibelius—while the drink on the table is DOM Benedictine. The second work is more carefully executed and less fantastical; but perhaps of most interest in the historical context is that the figures are less wildly drunk than darkly intense and brooding. Where in the first painting Sibelius is pale and wasted, and Gallen-Kallela snarling directly at the viewer, in the second painting the artists are represented as staring intently at the wings of Osiris, lost in philosophical reflection rather than drunken stupor. Gallen-Kallela's eyes are completely sunken into shadow, while Kajanus holds a cigarette that looks like it will burn off in his hand. I wonder whether this was the painter's response to the public controversy over the raw drunkenness depicted in the first painting, which was loud enough to result in Sibelius being refused loans—a painterly revision designed to reveal the real heart of the Symposion evenings superficially depicted in Kajustaflan. More background on Sibelius's so-called "Symposion Years" can be found here.