Berndt Abraham Godenhjelm, Aiax, a Study of a Plaster Cast, undated, charcoal on paper, 44cm x 41.5cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

How an Artisan became an Artist – an Overview of the Early Stages of Finnish Art Education

Irene Riihimäki, MA student, University of Helsinki

This article is published as a result of a three-month research internship at the Finnish National Gallery, during which Irene Riihimäki studied material in the Archive Collections of the Finnish National Gallery

It is childish to long for native art; Finland can never be a land for artists.’
– It was not long ago when this sentiment was commonly heard; in this way many speak even today, but their number is becoming smaller and smaller.
[1]

This article focuses on early art education in Finland from the 1840s to the end of the 1860s. During this time the backbone of art education was created in The Grand Duchy of Finland. Before the 1840s there was no institution in the country focusing primarily on educating artists. The distinction between the artist profession and craftsmanship emerged during this time and was connected to the development of the schooling system for artists. The artist’s new identity was accompanied by the founding of art academies.

An important step in Finland creating its own generation of artists was the foundation of the Finnish Art Society in 1846. Another important contributor was the Imperial Alexander University in Helsinki in the mid-19th century. The most essential source material for this article has been the Finnish Art Society’s minutes with appendices from the years 1846–69. These minutes include, for example, information about acquisitions of works of art, exhibitions and letters sent to the board by artists.[2] Circumstances in Finland were challenging during the mid-19th century. During this 20-year period Finland endured the Crimean War, from 1853 to 1856, a cholera epidemic and the Famine of 1866–68. Despite all of these difficulties there were hopes of improving the education system for artists.

[1] Papperslyktan 15 October 1860. My translation.

[2] The oldest part of this material (years 1846–1901) is available in digitised form. It can be read from the website: http://www.lahteilla.fi/styp/.

Featured image: Berndt Abraham Godenhjelm, Aiax, a Study of a Plaster Cast, undated, charcoal on paper, 44cm x 41.5cm
Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Ainur Nasretdin

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