Salla Tykkä, Giant, 2013. A still from an HD video 12:9, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finnish National Gallery

Editorial: Hear the Heartbeats of Museum Collections

Leevi Haapala, PhD, Museum Director, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma


‘Is “contemporary” the name of an art-historical period that has succeeded modernism, or does ‘contemporaneity’ mean that periodization is past (an anachronism from modernity) both in general culture and in art?’  This question from the Australian art historian Terry Smith prompts us to think about the meaning of living today and actively shaping our cultural heritage. Is contemporary art a label for today’s art, or is ‘contemporaneity’ also something that can be found from each historical period?

Art collection is one way of telling our story as a nation. That is a big challenge. What kind of story do we want to tell? And how do we want to be remembered by future citizens and museum visitors from other countries? Who are we, who are those who belong to ‘us’, and how is the nation defined through art? Museum directors need to face these questions every time they plan a new collection display or write an article about one of the museum’s many collections.

The art museum is a collecting institution. The collections of the Finnish National Gallery comprise around 40,000 works of art, objects and an art-historical research archive. The collections are closely integrated into the three museums’ exhibition programmes in the Ateneum Art Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma and the Sinebrychoff Art Museum. In the current edition of FNG Research, all three museum directors reveal the timespan and the guidelines for current acquisitions. Each time has valued its art differently – asking what is important, who are the artists to represent the nation or a particular patron, what is the relationship between private and public collections, whose taste to follow? The exhibition and research activities of the three museums range from contemporary digital art and European old masters to the constitutive history of Finnish art before and after Independence. One time’s novelty is today’s antiquity.

Collection is a wider concept than just the body of works. The organisation of exhibitions and public programmes inside the museum goes hand in hand with acquiring collections. Every year a number of pieces exhibited in the temporary exhibitions programme of the three museums augment the collections: either as purchased works of art, or through documenting them in photographs, artist interviews and research articles. Museums create narratives around the collections and about the collections via arts professionals together with living artists or with the help of documents. The art-historical archive is a treasure, full of artists’ correspondence and notebooks, audio records and media archives, art reviews, and even more.

Contemporary art is created and displayed in a context that is characterised by interaction between local and global culture. Finnish contemporary art, too, has become an important part of the international scene with its biennales, topical museum exhibitions, international artist residencies and art fairs. Kiasma’s collections are currently developed by acquiring important works of contemporary art of outstanding quality, regardless of national or geographic boundaries and yet with an underlying focus on art from nearby regions. Kiasma’s mission is to collect current contemporary art that reflects the times as broadly as possible. Important factors that determine acquisitions are an understanding of the times, fearless vision and sensitivity to phenomena such as network culture. As the Ateneum Art Museum’s Director Susanna Pettersson remarks in her paper in this edition, ‘The trends of the 21st century urge the museum field to share collection resources and to make better and more effective use of collections.’ That is precisely the target we are aiming at in Kiasma too, as we prepare to launch a digital Online Art Collection as a part of the forthcoming ‘ARS17’ exhibition. Through this initiative, online commissions will be made directly accessible to our digital natives wherever they may be.

The collection is the heart of the museum!

Johannes Takanen, Carl Gustaf Estlander, 1883, plaster cast, height 66cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Peer Reviewed Articles: Nordic Art History in the Making

Nordic Art History in the Making: Carl Gustaf Estlander and Tidskrift för Bildande Konst och Konstindustri 1875–1876

Susanna Pettersson, PhD, Museum Director, Ateneum Art Museum


First published in Renja Suominen-Kokkonen (ed.), The Challenges of Biographical Research in Art History Today. Taidehistoriallisia tutkimuksia (Studies in Art History) 46. Helsinki: Taidehistorian seura (The Society for Art History in Finland), 64–73, 2013


… “så länge vi på vår sida göra allt hvad i vår magt står – den mår vara hur ringa som helst – för att skapa ett konstorgan, värdigt vårt lands och vår tids fordringar.

Stockholm i December 1874. Redaktionen.”

(‘… as long as we do everything we can – however little that may be – to create an art body that is worth the claims of our countries and of our time.

From the Editorial staff, Stockholm, December 1874.’)[1]


These words were addressed to the readers of the first issue of the brand new art journal Tidskrift för bildande konst och konstindustri (Journal of Fine Arts and Arts and Crafts) published in Stockholm over two years in 1875–1876. One of the founding members of the journal was the Finnish academic and cultural activist Carl Gustaf Estlander (1834–1910), whose professional ambitions fit well into the picture.

I will argue that Tidskrift för bildande konst och konstindustri provided the Nordic editors of the journal with a platform to manifest their concept of art history. They developed a method of communicating the contents through a specific set of articles. The journal was a perfect 19th-century example of a project showcasing the development of a profession in the making and the use of professional networks. For Estlander, this was a gateway to the Nordic and North European art-historical discourse, and strengthened his position as the leading Finnish art historian of his time.

[1] Tidskrift för bildande konst och konstindustri 1875. Stockholm: C. E. Fritze’s Bokhandel, VIII.

Read More — Download ‘Nordic Art History in the Making: Carl Gustaf Estlander and Tidskrift för Bildande Konst och Konstindustri 1875–1876′ by Susanna Pettersson

Download the Full Peer Reviewed Article as a PDF >>

Hugo Simberg, Old Man and Child, 1913, Finnish National Gallery, Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Articles: Enhancing the FNG’s Collections

The Finnish National Gallery art collections consist of about 40,000 art works from the 14th century to the present day. They are owned by the State, along with its large archive collections. Responsibility for the augmentation and management of the art collections is divided between the three museums of the FNG – the Ateneum Art Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma and the Sinebrychoff Art Museum. The Directors of these museums, Susanna Pettersson, Leevi Haapala and Kirsi Eskelinen, write here about the collections and their history, as well as about acquisitions, donations, and collections policies

19th Century and Modern Art: Collecting for the Ateneum Art Museum

Susanna Pettersson

Download the Article as a PDF >>

Collections in Kiasma Live Along with Renewal of Art Itself

Leevi Haapala

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The Collections and Acquisitions Policy of the Sinebrychoff Art Museum

Kirsi Eskelinen

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Article: Important papers on Modigliani discovered

In preparing the Modigliani exhibition, an original speech by Modigliani’s friend and fellow artist, Léopold Survage on Modigliani was found in a file at the Ateneum Art Museum. Survage delivered the speech in Paris in 1947 and sent it to Finland some time after Modigliani’s portrait of him was purchased for the museum’s collection in 1955. The document has not been utilised in Modigliani studies so far. Here FNG Research publishes for the first time a facsimile of the original document and an English translation of the text

My Speech on Modigliani in Paris in 1947

Léopold Survage (1879–1968)


The original document: Archive Collections / Finnish National Gallery

Transl. Valerie Vainonen


It is thanks to the friendship and affection I feel for Modigliani that I have undertaken to outline some of the characteristics of this unique painter in so far as I have understood them during the periods of his life in which I myself have played a part.

The legend that has grown up around Modigliani has, like all legends, already attributed to him things which are not always true or which are interlaced with facts that have been misinterpreted. Others were true, like those that gave rise to such epithets as ‘Bohemian’ and ‘Montparno’, as opposed to that class of Parisians considered to be ‘the honest bourgeoisie’ with their mundane and dreary way of life, imposed by their work, their character and their concern for upholding a good reputation in their neighbourhood.

The young man was poor. The only baggage he brought with him when he arrived from Italy was the spiritual heritage of his Israeli family with the purity and idealism only that race is capable of developing. He had inherited his nobility of soul from his mother. He showed me her photograph with poignant love and admiration. A striking face, intelligent and fine, with an aristocratic look that ran in the family.

His most remarkable quality, one that never left him even in the most difficult and frustrating situations in his life, was his nobility of soul. His entire appearance, his gestures, his words were those of a long line of aristocrats without pride and full of simplicity and amiability.

The abrupt leap, his departure from Livorno and his abandonment of the family that had protected him from the harshness of life, was the first major shock he had encountered.

Would this young man adjust to the remorseless demands of Paris? He brought with him his gifts, his impetuousness. How would the city welcome him?

Download the Full English Translation of the Original Speech as a PDF >>

Download the Facsimile of the Original Speech (in French) as a PDF >>

Prof. Juliet Simpson at the Ateneum Art Museum, photographed with Väinö Blomstedt’s painting Francesca, 1897, on display in the ’Stories of Finnish Art’ exhibition of works from the Museum’s collection. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Article: International Networking – the Name of the Game

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research


The Ateneum Art Museum’s art historians have been forging unique links with academics at Coventry University through shared research interests. Gill Crabbe asked Professor Juliet Simpson about her collaboration with arts professionals internationally, when she was in Helsinki to give a lecture on Gothic Modernisms

The words renewal and reinvention have long been associated with the city of Coventry. Its great twin cathedrals – Gothic and modern – bear witness to linked legacies of past and present that have made Coventry central to a new international spirit of post-1945 British culture. In recent years Coventry University’s role in this has been pivotal as an engine of new thinking and creativity; it is therefore no surprise that the University emblem is the rising phoenix, archetypal symbol of rebirth. Juliet Simpson’s new appointment in 2015 to the Professorship in Art History and Chair of Visual Arts, a long-standing University strength, marks part of a new academic influx, destined to open the next chapter of the University’s development. As Chair of Visual Arts, Simpson begins a journey, challenging and dynamic, to put visual arts at Coventry firmly on the international map. Since her appointment, her professional dynamism has acted as a magnet, attracting a wide range of professionals to join her in realising her vision as part of a new Faculty of Arts and Humanities.

In a little over 18 months Prof. Simpson has energised growth, beginning the multi-faceted task of transforming Coventry’s former Department of Design and Visual Arts within the School of Art and Design (now forming part of the University’s Faculty of Arts and Humanities), into a multi-themed operation with an expanded interdisciplinary, international research and cultural sector reach. ‘The idea was to re-energise the historical, the philosophical and theoretical side of the area and boost the connections that can be built between art historians, artists and designers with international museums and gallery collaborations,’ she says. This is no mean feat, given the historic demarcation lines that have existed throughout the professions between university-based art historians and museum-based curators; between fine art and applied art. However, Prof. Simpson’s vision not only crosses these disciplinary boundaries, but extends beyond Britain to establish international collaborations as pivotal to creating an interconnected and transnational visual arts research field, linking historians, curators and innovative creative practices through collaboration with academics and professionals internationally.

This is where Finland’s arts professionals, and in particular the research partnership with the Finnish National Gallery, come into the picture.

Read more — Download ‘International Networking – the Name of the Game’ by Gill Crabbe as a PDF

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Conferences: Gothic Modernisms

29–30 June, 2017

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Organised by the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Coventry University; the Amsterdam School for Heritage, Memory and Material Culture, in collaboration with the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; the Ateneum Art Museum / Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki, and Radboud University, Nijmegen.

Keynote speaker: Prof. Elizabeth Emery, Montclair State University, US

‘Gothic Modernisms’ forms the culminating event in a trilogy of conferences investigating the modern and modernist reception of Northern medieval and Renaissance masters in Europe, beginning with ‘Primitive Renaissances’ (National Gallery, London, 2014) and continuing with ‘Visions of the North’ (Compton Verney Museum, Warks, UK, 2016).

For details of the call for papers, please download the full PDF below:

Call for Papers: Gothic Modernisms 2017

Artists and teachers with their spouses in Düsseldorf in the 1850s. On the left, Werner Holmberg (1830–1860), one of the first Finnish artists to have studied in Düsseldorf. Black-and-white print on paper from the 1890s, reproduction of original print. Finnish National Gallery archive prints.

Editorial: Going Solo

Susanna Pettersson, PhD, Museum Director, Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki


September 22, 2016


This autumn the Finnish National Gallery celebrates internationally acknowledged artists such as Mona Hatoum and Amedeo Modigliani. Hatoum has a strong voice in the contemporary art scene. Her political works pinpoint the issues that we all should be aware of. Modigliani, in his turn, is known for his unique paintings and sculptures but also because of his dramatic life story: drugs and poverty combined with the deep passion to create.

Museums are platforms for exhibitions that touch our hearts and souls. However, this has not always been the case. In the 19th century, art museums throughout Europe mainly presented exhibitions of collections according to the schools, such as the Dutch and Flemish, or Renaissance art, rather than focusing on individual artists. Yet the key figures of art history were sculpted, carved, or their names inscribed on museum walls and facades all over Europe, from London to Paris and Helsinki. Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo were among the most frequently used names in this imaginary hall of fame. It’s somewhat striking that while the value and interest of exceptional artists’ careers were understood, retrospective exhibitions as we understand them today, became increasingly popular only after the mid-19th century.

The interest in exploring the careers of individual artists grew hand in hand with the development of art-historical research. Encyclopaedic art-historical presentations written by Franz Theodor Kugler, Karl Schnaase or Wilhelm Lübke, for example, provided a framework for the discourse in the 19th century. Within the same time frame the first artist monographs were published. They opened up possibilities for the better understanding of art history, and inspired museums to start focusing on exhibitions that explored one artist only. Specific sites and museums dedicated to single artists were opened: among the first were the Thorvaldsen Museum in Copenhagen (1848) Antonio Canova’s Gipsoteca in Possagno, Italy (1853) and the Ingres’ Room (1851/54), now part of the Musée Ingres in Montauban, France.

In Finland the first retrospective exhibition was organised to honour the memory of Werner Holmberg (1830–60) whose blossoming career as a landscape painter was cut short by his untimely death. The exhibition, mounted by the Finnish Art Society, was opened in September 1861 at the grand gallery of the Societetshuset in Helsinki, a venue where the upper class organised large-scale events. This time, there were no real possibilities for any research. That came later in 1890, when Finnish art historian Eliel Aspelin-Haapkylä published the first proper monograph about Werner Holmberg, in connection with the artist’s exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki.

The link between research and exhibitions is vital. It has always been, and today even more so. This is perhaps something that we should highlight even more: that the best exhibitions are always based on scholarly and ambitious research. Every phenomenon, every artist and even every work has a story to tell. And these stories can lead to life-changing thoughts and experiences.