Like many Nordic artists, the Finn Ville Vallgren took inspiration from the Kalevala legend. These popular poems, recounting the epic of the Finnish people, were collected and transcribed in 1835. Grief refers to cantos 3 and 4 in which Väinämöinen, the son of the goddess Ilmatar, is challenged by Joukahainen. Joukahainen is beaten and to save his life is forced to promise Väinämöinen the hand of his sister, Aino. Crazed with grief, Aino drowns herself in the sea, where she turns into a fish.
Vallgren carved the figure in very low relief from a block of limestone which he then covered with polychrome in pastel tones against a blue background. The treatment of the waving hair mimics the waves of the sea. It is the metamorphosis which interests the artist and as a result the poignant suicide scene becomes an attractive decorative motif.
Ville Vallgren spent thirty-six years of his life in France working particularly in the decorative arts. He is one of the best Scandinavian representatives of the international Art Nouveau movement.