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The Art Museums of Helsinki

Updated on September 27, 2012

Helsinki's Art Museums: An Introduction

As befits a nations capital, Helsinki has an abundance of art galleries and museums. This lens will introduce you to the 11 main museums which are devoted to the arts, including the 'Big Three' that are run by the National Gallery of Finland, as well as the smaller ones that have grown from private collections built by Finnish art lovers over the years. All combined, they prove that Helsinki is a city worth visiting for all 'culture vultures', whether their taste is inclined towards contemporary or modern art, or more towards the classical art of centuries past. You'll be surprised at the wealth of art in Helsinki - I know I was!

Ateneum Art Museum
Ateneum Art Museum

Ateneum Art Museum

Ateneum Art Museum is one of the three museums that make up the Finnish National Gallery. Occupying the landmark building designed by Theodor Höijer which was inaugurated in 1887, its stated aim is “to care for, build up, study and present the most important art collection in Finland”. To this end, Ateneum houses by far the largest collection of paintings and sculptures in the country – a total of over 4,300 paintings and more than 750 sculptures. The collection showcases the development of Finnish art from the early 18th century right up to the experimental art movements of the 20th century. Of course, as it is a national gallery it has an obligation to share these works with other museums around the world, so at times some of the prized pieces may be on display elsewhere.

Although Ateneum's collection is naturally focused on Finnish art and artists, it also boasts a fine collection of international art of over 650 works; paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints. The most famous artists represented include Gaugin, Cézanne, Chagall, de Goya, Rodin, Delacroix, Modigliani, Munch and van Gogh. Indeed, one of the most prized pieces in the international collection is van Gogh's painting “Street in Auvers-sur-Oise” from 1890 which was one the artist's last works. In addition to the museum's collections, which are on display on the third floor, Ateneum also presents top class temporary exhibitions.

Sinebrychoff Art Museum
Sinebrychoff Art Museum

Sinebrychoff Art Museum

The Sinebrychoff Art Museum is the second of the museums administered by the Finnish National Gallery, and is the only museum in the country which specialises in old European art. The permanent collection includes Finland's most valuable, and internationally acclaimed, paintings by Old Masters. The collection spans a period from the 14th century through to the beginning of the 19th century, and has been built up through private donations, purchases and depositions. The oldest of these generous donations is the O.W Klinckowström art collection, which was given to the Finnish Art Society in 1851. Other notable donations include the H. F. Antell, C. G. Göhle, Hjalmar Linder and Carl von Haartman collections.

In all, some 20 donations make up the permanent collection, including that of Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff in whose mansion the museum is located. The 'Interior Museum' presents their home just as it was in the 1910s. In addition to the Swedish portraiture of the 17th and 18th centuries which was the focus of Sinebrychoff collection, there is Dutch and Flemish art of the 17th century, as well as works by Italian, French, German, Spanish and English artists, graphic art and Japanese woodcuts. The collections include such artists as Cranach the Elder, Rembrandt, Tiepolo, Jan van Goyen and Alexander Roslin. The Museum also possesses a significant collection of miniatures, silver and porcelain. The Sinebrychoff Art Museum holds a couple of major exhibitions each year.

Kiasma - Museum of Contemporary Art
Kiasma - Museum of Contemporary Art

Kiasma - Museum of Contemporary Art

The third museum administered by the Finnish National Gallery is Kiasma, whose basic functions are to organise changing exhibitions and augment its collection. Its programme includes presenting exhibitions of both Finnish and international contemporary art, displaying the collection through annually changing thematic exhibitions, arranging workshops, seminars and lectures, and putting on performances in the Kiasma Theatre. The collections of Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art are comprised of over 8000 works, primarily from Finland and other Nordic countries, which grows at around 200 pieces a year. Notable recent acquisitions include the Kouri Collection consisting of international contemporary art, acquired in 1997, and the donation related to the life’s work of Kalervo Palsa which was acquired in 1999.

Amos Anderson Art Museum
Amos Anderson Art Museum

Amos Anderson Art Museum

Amos Anderson Art Museum is the largest private art museum in Finland, and is housed in Amos Anderson's private home which was built in 1913, and converted to a modern museum after his death. It is known for its diverse and varied exhibition programme and extensive collection of modern art, of which a choice selection is permanently on display. The display includes several rooms from Amos Anderson's private home and his private chapel. There is a café and a museum shop on the ground floor. Annually the museum arranges between 8 and 12 exhibitions, with some of them running concurrently, around special themes covering both contemporary and more traditional art. Although the majority of these temporary exhibitions concern the visual arts, applied arts and cultural history are also covered. The emphasis is on Finnish visual arts, but international exhibitions are also presented on a regularly.

The Cygnaeus Gallery
The Cygnaeus Gallery

Cygnaeus Gallery

The Cygnaeus Gallery holds the distinction of being the oldest art museum in Finland, having first opened its doors to the public in 1882. It grew from an art collection bequeathed in his will to the Finnish people by Professor Fredrik Cygnaeus, which numbered some 200 pieces of art, mostly 19th century paintings and sculptures. Today the collection has almost 450 pieces, the additional art having been donated, and of these some 100 pieces are on permanent display. The museum is located in the former summer villa of the Professor, situated in the beautiful Kaivopusito section of Helsinki. The villa, designed by J.W. Mieritz, is one of the few wooden buildings that still remain in this section of Helsinki, and was also part of the bequest. Today the museum is owned by the State, and is administered by the National Board of Antiquities.

The Didrichsen Art Museum
The Didrichsen Art Museum

The Didrichsen Art Museum

Tucked away on the delightful island of Kuusisaari, in a villa complex built by the architect Viljo Revell in 1958/1959, the Didrichsen Art Museum has grown from the love of art that shared by Marie-Louise and Gunnar Didrichsen. The collection mainly features art from the 20th century by Finnish artists like Edelfelt, Cawén, Schjerfbeck, Särestöniemi, Linnovaara, Hiltunen and Pullinen. There is also a modern international section where you'll find works by some of the most famous artists of their time, like Miró, Kandinsky, Picasso, Léger, Arp, Moore and Giacometti. The basement of the villa boasts Finland's only Pre-Columbian art collection – the native art of cultures from Mesoamerica and South America, dating from 2000 BCE to the 14th century AD. There is also an oriental art collection, featuring pieces from the Shang Dynasty up to the Ming Dynasty, as well as art from the Far and Near East.

Helsinki City Art Museum - Tennis Palace
Helsinki City Art Museum - Tennis Palace

Helsinki City Art Museum

Tennis Palace, Meilahti, and the Kluuvi Gallery

The Helsinki City Art Museum is one of the largest art museums in Finland, in fact it is one of the largest in all the Nordic countries. Its stated function is to act as an interpreter of the history of the visual arts and of new trends in visual culture. It possesses a significant collection, operateing in three separate locations, putting on exhibitions that are mostly temporary.

The biggest of the three exhibition spaces run by the Helsinki City Art Museum, Tennis Palace opened to the public in 1999. The central idea of opening an art museum in this location (the Tennis Palace also features one of the city's largest cinema complexes, cafés and restaurants) was to expand the Museum's visitor base. The museum is also located right next to the Museum of Cultures. The exhibitions held in Tennis Palace are mostly temporary, although HCAM does have its own collection. The annual programme is typically international, with the museum working with partners from all over the world, from Latin and North America, to Asia and Europe.

Meilahti’s Museum building is situated in west Helsinki in the midst of old parkland, on the way to the popular Seurasaari Open-Air Museum. The building was completed in 1976, and alongside the temporary exhibitions, the programme usually has an emphasis on exhibitions built around the Museum’s own collections and their themes. However, the building has been closed recently because of repeated problems with damp and mildew. At the moment it looks like this building will be demolished, and as of yet there are no plans for another building.

The Kluuvi Gallery is known for its exhibitions of contemporary visual arts, focussing on experimental and non-commercial works by Finnish artists. The Gallery aims to offer opportunities for the kinds of exhibition projects that would be difficult to realise elsewhere in Helsinki.

Taidekoti Kirpilä, interior
Taidekoti Kirpilä, interior

Kirpilä Art Collection

The Kirpilä Art Collection was donated to the Finnish Cultural Foundation by Doctor Juhani Kirpilä, and is housed in his former home, Taidekoti Kirpilä which was also part of the bequest. It was opened to the public in 1992, which means that this year it celebrated its 20th anniversary. The collection is a rich and varied mix of paintings and sculptures representing Finnish art from the end of the 19th century up to the 1970s, and includes work by Hugo Simberg, Helene Schjerfbeck, Magnus Enckell, Pekka Halonen, Ãke Mattas, Essi Renvall, and Maria Wiik among others.

Villa Gyllenberg
Villa Gyllenberg

Villa Gyllenberg

The Gyllenberg Foundation was set up by Signe and Ane Gyllenberg in 1948, primarily for medical research but also with the objective of displaying the couples art collection to the public after their deaths. Villa Gyllenberg, which now houses the collection, was originally designed by Matti Finell in 1938, and extended in 1955. In 1977, after their deaths, an open architectural competition was held to build an exhibition space to connect with their home.

Since Villa Gyllenberg opened to the public the art donated by the foundation has become a part of Finnish cultural heritage, and today it doubles as both an art museum and as a museum of personal history, and of the history of their time. The museum, the art collection, and the idyllic setting in which it is located all combine to provide a welcome contrast to Helsinki's busy urban life nearby. The collection covers the period of 1756 to 1970 in Finnish art, with over 200 pieces displayed in chronological order. Finland's 'Golden Era' of painting is well represented, with the private Helene Scherfbeck collection being the largest of its kind. There is also a collection of foreign art which includes masterpieces from the 16th and 17th centuries, including works by di Cosimo, Tiarini, Tintoretto and Tizian. There is a café on the premises with delightful views over Laajalahti. The museum also hosts concerts on a regular basis.

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    • Lemming13 profile image

      Lemming13 5 years ago

      Very interesting and informative - lots more reasons to visit Finland!

    • Elaine Chen profile image

      Elaine Chen 5 years ago

      I like to visit museum and this lens really attracted my interest :-)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Great detail on some excellent art museums. Very nice lens.

    • yelgab lm profile image

      yelgab lm 5 years ago

      Very interesting, thanks for sharing

    • radhanathswamifan profile image

      radhanathswamifan 5 years ago

      Great lens!