It was his 2ft x 2ft 5in (61 x 74cm) painting Haavakuume from 1889. This translates literally as Wound Fever, but in 1890 the work was exhibited at the The Continental Gallery in London as Mute Suffering and this title is inscribed on the back of the frame.
The painting is one of several in which the artist depicted scenes from the – often bleak – life of Finnish farmers and peasants. An injured farmer lies on his bed with staring eyes.
The morbid subject matter probably deterred a lot of potential buyers, but was particularly attractive to Wilhelm Filehne from Breslau, who purchased the painting at a Berlin exhibition in 1895. He was a pharmacologist and his specialist research subject was the development of fever-reducing drugs.
He kept Mute Suffering in his collection for approximately 20 years, at which point he sold it to one of his colleagues, who later moved to Basel. Since that time it had remained in the possession of the family.
The auctioneers were expecting SFr30,000-40,000 at the sale on June 21, but had not reckoned with the interest of numerous bidders: the hammer fell at SFr446,000 (£359,670), a new auction record.