Art treasures of the city - Art takes root

Eero Järnefelt (1863-1937) Under the Yoke (Burning the Brushwood) 1893 Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: YEHIA EWEIS / FINNISH NATIONAL GALLERY

Eero Järnefelt (1863-1937) Under the Yoke (Burning the Brushwood) 1893 Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum

Photo: YEHIA EWEIS / FINNISH NATIONAL GALLERY

The history and present state of Finnish art can be studied intimately in the various art museums, galleries and special collections in and around Helsinki.

The city has an active art life with over 150 museums and art galleries – surely enough even for the most eager art lover. 

A HUNDRED YEARS ago, Finland’s artistic life was utterly different.

Helsinki had just one art museum, the Ateneum, which had opened to the public in 1888, and was solely charged with meeting all the city’s artistic needs.

It took several decades before a wider range of art galleries and alternative exhibition spaces emerged, the first serious contender being the Helsinki Kunsthalle, inaugurated in 1928.

Art takes root

Finnish art is comparatively young. Prior to the eighteenth century, Finland did not have a single full-time professional artist. The first art school was only founded in 1846.

Finnish art history has roots in religious work. From the Middle Ages, the church began to commission occasional works of art.

Finland had no affluent élite to compare with that which provided employment to portraitists and other artists in Central Europe. 

The turning-point came in the early eighteenth century, when the fortress of Viapori was founded, leading to a large influx of Swedish officers to oversee the building works.

Trade received a boost, enriching the local population, and there was an upsurge in the demand for portraits among the élite.

Artists travelled all the way from Stockholm in search of work. Finnish art burgeoned forth in a variety of forms.

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