Kristina Isola's fabric design entitled Metsänväki ("Forest Dwellers"), made in 2007 for Marimekko, has been exposed as a copy of a work by the Ukrainian naivist folk painter Maria Pryimachenko (1908–1997), published some 50 years ago in 1963 under the title "The Rat on Her Travels".
According to Marimekko, Isola reported to them of the illustration she had used as the basis for her own pattern on Tuesday evening, after Helsingin Sanomat had begun looking into the similarities. A blue version of the Marimekko fabric, first produced in 2007, was recently featured in the special livery of a Finnair long-haul Airbus 330.
The print designs of the tree-trunks and branches used in the later work by Isola are identical to those in Pryimachenko's original gouache from 1963.
"The news that the work of another artist has been used as the basis for the Metsänvaki pattern comes as a complete shock and a profound disappointment to us," Marimekko's artistic director Minna Kemell-Kutvonen told Helsingin Sanomat in an email statement.
"As a design house, our work is founded in the originality and uniqueness of our patterns."
According to Kemell-Kutvonen, Marimekko takes a position of trusting its designers and their ideas, as occurred in this instance.
The company is unable to say at present why Isola should have decided to use the work of another hand as the basis for her pattern, but in Kemell-Kutvonen's words, Marimekko takes questions of copyright very seriously indeed.
"We certainly try to ensure that all our patterns are authentic and designed specifically for us. We have to be particularly vigilant in this respect at the same time as we ourselves battle against copyright violations of our own designs."
Freelance designer Kristina Isola is one of the longest-serving Marimekko designers, and is indeed a second-generation designer for the company, following in the illustrious footsteps of her mother Maija Isola (1927-2001). Isola did not answer calls from HS on Wednesday morning.
Marimekko is not able to gauge the possible consequences of the revelations of plagiarism. The pattern in question is not currently for sale in the company's own product assortment, despite its recent visibility on the Finnair fuselage.
The striking similarities were noticed by a Helsinki art enthusiast who prefers to remain anonymous for the present. He owns a book containing an image of Pryimachenko's original gouache work, and noticed the likeness after reading a Monday article in Helsingin Sanomat about Finnish design exports. The piece also contained a photograph of the Finnair aircraft in the blue Metsänväki livery.
Struck by the resemblance, he took down from the bookshelves a Russian & Ukrainian volume entitled Ukrainian Folk Art, dating from 1967, in which the works of the extremely well-known Ukrainian nativist Maria Pryimachenko were also featured. Among them was "The Rat on Her Travels". Although the later Marimekko work contains no animal motifs, the trees are identical, notes the art enthusiast.
A simple comparison of the two images confirms this observation. The volume from 1967 states that Pryimachenko's painting is a 40cm x 50 cm gouache and is in the collections of the Ukrainian Folk Decorative Art Museum in Kiev.
The discoverer of the plagiarism points out that the book was originally bought from a Helsinki bookstore, and it is probable that several copies will have been circulating in Finland in the 1960s, albeit that it does not appear in the catalogues and databases of the Helsinki University Library.
Finnair did not wish to comment on the matter on Tuesday. "I have understood that Marimekko has made a comment", noted Finnair's SVP, Corporate Communications Arja Suominen after seeing a picture of Pryimachenko's original work.
Suominen reported that Metsänväki was one of the fabric designs offered to the national carrier by Marimekko when the subject of repainting a long-haul airliner came up, and specifically in the shade of blue that was ultimately used.
The Airbus 330, used on routes to New York and the Far East, was painted in its new livery in Helsinki and was first shown off to Finnish and foreign journalists earlier this month, before its maiden flight to Tokyo. Finnair cabin crew on the flight wore kimonos in Marimekko designs.