Story | 06/20/2023 10:02:10 | 3 min Read time

Hugo Simberg’s commissioned work stands the test of time

Sini Paloheimo

UPM

Sini-Maria Melanen

Editor, Spoon Agency

Hugo Simberg's perhaps most famous commissioned work has been ageing well. With its upright posture and demanding presence, the UPM Griffin is the oldest Finnish business symbol still in use.

It is 150 years since the birth of the Finnish painter and graphic artist Hugo Simberg (1873-1917). The UPM logo has also been in use for over 120 years.

The roots of the business symbol go back to Finland in the late 19th century. Due to increasing competition and tightening customs procedures, UPM's predecessor, Kymmene Aktiebolag, needed a distinctive logo for its trade with Russia.

The company turned to two well-known artists, Hugo Simberg and Louis Sparre, for suggestions. A drawing of a griffin by Hugo Simberg, a young graphic artist and pioneer of Finnish symbolism was declared the winner of the design competition. Kymmene Aktiebolag purchased the drawing in 1899, and it was officially accepted as the company logo in 1901.The question of why Simberg chose the griffin to represent the company remains a mystery.

The guardian of the green gold

The griffin is originally a mythical animal, half lion, and half eagle. The oldest griffins are found in the ancient fables and art of Mesopotamia as early as 3000 BC. Later, they appeared in many different forms in Egyptian and Persian art, for example. They found their way to Europe through ancient Greece, and the English word griffin is in fact of Greek origin. 

According to ancient belief, the griffin has the speed and strength of the king of birds and beasts. These qualities have made it highly revered guardian of ancient people’s golden treasures, the pharaohs of Egypt or the Greek gods.

In Finnish, the word griffin is translated as ‘aarnikotka’. According to philologists, the word ‘aarni’ refers to a large tree or guardian, believed to lie on top of treasures hidden in the ground.

Folklorists have even drawn a connection between the griffin and Louhi, who takes the form of a giant eagle in Kalevala, the Finnish national epic. Knowing that Simberg was a student of Akseli Gallen-Kallela, a famous Finnish painter of Kalevala themed masterpieces, further supports the theory.

First and foremost, the griffin was the guardian of gold. This could explain why Hugo Simberg most likely chose the mythical creature who, in this case, is guarding the green gold of the forests.

UPM has its roots in the 1870s

A symbol of leadership

It could rightfully be said that the Griffin has become an integral part of the modern UPM narrative. Although the logo was created over 120 years ago, it’s still very relevant and international.

The mystical griffin symbolises continuity, trust, and strength. The Griffin tells a great story about the company's history and future., a story of which the company is very proud of.

The UPM family tree

It also speaks to people all over the world. For instance, in China, where mythical creatures still appear in everyday conversations, employees are often asked about the story behind the logo.

The UPM Griffin has been used everywhere from ceramics to furniture, as well as the company architecture. Even today, it can be found embossed in the pulp bales produced at the Kymi pulp mill in Kuusankoski, southern Finland, the same location where the logo was originally taken into use.

The appearance of the logo underwent a few stylistic changes over the course of the 20th century. After the merger in 1996, the latest version – including the abbreviation UPM – was registered as the official company logo.

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