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!

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

Giovanni Domenico Bossi, Portrait of a Lady, undated, watercolour and gouache on ivory, 6,3cm x 6,3cm, Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff Collection, Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Editorial: Sinebrychoff’s Small Gems

Kirsi Eskelinen, PhD, Museum Director, Sinebrychoff Art Museum


July 14, 2016


The renowned art collector Paul Sinebrychoff had a special interest in portraits. He also gathered a rare collection of miniatures which, in his own time in the late 19th century, was the largest collection in Northern Europe. The collection includes about 400 pieces and is still the most important collection in Finland.

About 15 years ago, the miniatures were studied and conservation work was then carried out on them as part of a thorough renewal and restoration of the museum building of the Sinebrychoff Art Museum on Bulevardi in Helsinki. However, as is the case with every part of the collection, they need to be taken care of on a continuous basis. Now, the miniatures are being treated again. There are only a few specialists in miniature painting conservation. Dr. Bernd Pappe, who is interviewed in this issue, is a world-renowned specialist in this field, as well as an art historian. He reveals the painstaking work behind the scenes.

During the past two years special effort has been put into developing the access to the art works in Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff’s house museum. It is an essential part of the Sinebrychoff Art Museum’s new strategy to engage our audiences and generate a new kind of dialogue and encounter with the art works in the milieu of the collector’s home, which is a unique example of its kind in Finland. When visiting our website you can already have a virtual tour of the house museum or make acquaintance with Paul Sinebrychoff’s favourite portraits – his friends as he used to call them – hanging in his study.

Museum curator Reetta Kuojärvi-Närhi has studied the miniature collection. She is currently leading a project on the miniatures, which enables us to present them with a digital platform to make them more accessible and even more enjoyable and exciting to the general public.

Featured image: Giovanni Domenico Bossi, Portrait of a Lady, undated, watercolour and gouache on ivory, 6,3cm x 6,3cm, Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff Collection, Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Jacob Axel Gillberg, Self-Portrait, 1815, watercolour and gouache on ivory, 6,2cm x 6,2cm, Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff Collection, Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Janne Mäkinen

Small is Beautiful

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

The Sinebrychoff Art Museum has one of the finest collections of portrait miniatures in the Nordic region. Curator Reetta Kuojärvi-Närhi gives Gill Crabbe the backdrop to the conservation work that has taken place over 15 years of collaboration with the specialist conservator Bernd Pappe

Paul Sinebrychoff’s collection of miniatures, which date from the 17th to 19th centuries, originally enjoyed pride of place in the salon of his home in Bulevardi, Helsinki, which is now the Finnish National Gallery’s Sinebrychoff Art Museum. As museum curator Reetta Kuojärvi-Närhi explains, ‘They were his treasures and he started by buying two big collections of about 100 pieces each, having done his own research. Altogether, though, he collected around 400 images which are contained in more than 320 items (some miniatures contain multiple images).’ Sinebrychoff’s treasure trove has been augmented by a further 46 miniatures collected by Mikko and Mary Mannio, as well as seven miniatures acquired through other donations.

Today a selection of these miniatures is on display in a specially designed room with lighting suitable for conservation purposes and in a cabinet that enables the viewer to see the exquisite workmanship in closer detail. Much of this display has been conserved by Bernd Pappe, a leading expert in miniature conservation, who first visited the museum as an advisor 15 years ago, and then as conservator. On his most recent visit in April 2016, he has been bringing many works up to the standard required for them to go on show in the permanent exhibition. This has been part of a two-year project during which Pappe has concentrated on replacing the damaged glasses in the frames.

Featured image: Jacob Axel Gillberg, Self-Portrait, 1815, watercolour and gouache on ivory, 6,2cm x 6,2cm, Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff Collection, Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Janne Mäkinen

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Bernd Pappe at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum’s specially designed room where the collection of miniatures is displayed. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

It’s All in the Detail – Interview with Dr. Bernd Pappe

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

The leading international conservator Bernd Pappe has been involved in a major conservation project at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum. Gill Crabbe meets him to find out how he has brought exquisite portrait miniatures in the collection up to display quality

Featured image: Bernd Pappe at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum’s specially designed room where the collection of miniatures is displayed. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

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To watch a video of Bernd Pappe talking about replacing weeping glasses, click here:

Touch Wood – Rescuing Rare Panel Paintings

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

An international expert on the conservation of panel paintings has led a groundbreaking workshop at Sinebrychoff Art Museum, where participants rolled up their sleeves to restore some of Finland’s national treasures

Workshop at Sinebrychoff Art Museum
Wood Panel Workshop at Sinebrychoff Art Museum. Arne Rannaoja and Jean-Albert Glatigny repair the upper section of Madonna and Child Enthroned. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen


In the vaulted White Cellar in the basement of the Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Helsinki, a dozen or so conservators – many from museums across Finland, and including Tannar Ruuben, the paintings conservation lecturer at the city’s Metropolia University of Applied Sciences – are gathered around a table, peering at the back of a 17th-century wood panel painting. The table is specially made for the highly sensitive work of restoring and conserving rare works of art painted on wood. The clamping table, as it is known, has been constructed by Jean-Albert Glatigny, Conservator at the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage in Brussels, who is considered to be the world expert on restoring wood panel paintings. He is here to lead a 10-day practical workshop sharing his expertise in the structural stabilisation of these works with a new generation of conservators, passing on his knowledge in this highly skilled field. The clamping table he has brought with him from Brussels is used to glue splits in the panels and to repair joints with a high degree of precision. Tannar Ruuben was so impressed by it that he decided to buy it for his conservation department.

The workshop has come about as a result of the Getty Panel Painting Initiative, an ongoing project that aims to increase specialised training in the structural conservation of panel paintings and to advance the treatment of these works in collections around the world. The project was brought to the attention of Kirsi Eskelinen, the Sinebrychoff Art Museum’s Director, when in 2010 she met Prof. Jorgen Wadum, keeper of conservation and director of the Centre for Art Technological Studies and Conservation (CATS) at Denmark’s National Gallery, who was involved in the Getty initiative. At that time Eskelinen was head of collections at the Serlachius Museum in Mänttä and had been seeking guidance on the repair of the 16th-century panel attributed to the studio of the Flemish painter Quentin Matsys, Madonna with Cherries which, she says, ‘was actually in two pieces’. Wadum visited Mänttä to advise on how best to proceed with its restoration and, says Eskelinen, ‘he asked us if we need this kind of specialist knowledge throughout Finland’.

Five years on, and in her new position at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Eskelinen’s response remains unequivocal. ‘I want to generate more co-operation in the field of research and care of the Old Masters collections across Finland. As a museum specialising in this area the Finnish National Gallery is keen to develop and share its expertise.’

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See the video of the Sinebrychoff Art Museum workshop by clicking on the link below

Editorial: The Secret History of an Old Master

Kirsi Eskelinen, PhD, Museum Director, Sinebrychoff Art Museum


November 25, 2015


The Sinebrychoff Art Museum houses the most significant collection of Old Masters in Finland. The collection has grown as a result of several donations, the earliest ones dating back to the time of Grand Dutchy of Finland in the 19th century. Among the most important is the collection of Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff which was donated in 1921 and is on show on the 1st floor of the museum. The works on display in a part this section of the museum are included in a faithful reconstruction of the Sinebrychoffs’ home as it was during the 1910s (see photograph above). The Museum’s collection spreads over several hundreds of years, from the 14th to the 19th century, and includes paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings and antiquities.

The research activity conducted in the Museum is focusing on the works of art from many different points of view and often has a multi-scholarly approach. The paintings can be studied in order to clarify questions concerning the authenticity, the attribution or the dating for example. When planning the conservation of a work of art, it is first studied technically. The collaboration of art historian and conservator is essential in the conservation process, as well as in the research into the work and actually a conservation treatment offers a natural opportunity to study the work in question more thoroughly.

The Rembrandt painting Reading Monk (1661) is considered one of the jewels of the Finnish National Gallery. There are no other paintings by Rembrandt in Finnish collections. This painting has been traditionally attributed to Rembrandt and it bears his signature. However, recently some doubts have been put forward concerning the attribution. The painting has been studied using various methods of technical analysis during previous decades, but it lacks a coherent and overall consideration. Sinebrychoff Art Museum together with the Conservation Department is now planning an international research project on the Rembrandt painting combining the expertise of scientists, art historians and conservators using modern technical methods of study. We hope that the painting will finally reveal its secret, whether or not it was executed by the great Dutch master.

Featured image: Paul Sinebrychoff in his study in 1910s, photographed by Signe Brander. Photo: Archive Collections, Finnish National Gallery

The Adoration of the Magi – a Masterpiece

Kirsi Eskelinen, Director, Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery

First published in Art’s Memory – Layers of Conservation. Edited by Reetta Kuojärvi-Närhi, Maija Santala, Ari Tanhuanpää, Anne-Mari Forss. Sinebrychoffin taidemuseon julkaisuja (Sinebrychoff Art Museum Publications). Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum, 2005

Eliel Aspelin-Haapkylä had bought this painting of the Adoration of the Magi in Venice in 1898. [1] According to Osvald Sirén it would have been the jewel of Aspelin’s collection had it not been in such poor condition. Sirén, however, had deeper insight when he attributed this ‘beautiful ruin’ to Giovanni Boccati in 1921. [2] The abundant ornamentality and fluent composition of the Late Gothic were, according to Sirén, characteristic of the work owned by Aspelin, which he associated in terms of style with Gentile da Fabriano and particularly with a painting of the same title by him in Florence. The figures of the Virgin and children, the nature of the background scenery and the decorative details of the painting in turn pointed to Boccati. Sirén compared this painting to an altarpiece predella painted by Boccati in 1447 (Pala del Pergolato, Perugia), with its theme of the Passion and especially the scene of Christ bearing His cross. In the latter work, the marine landscape and the town wall with its towers resembled the Aspelin painting. [3] Sirén dates the work in Aspelin’s collection to before the Perugia predella of 1447. [4]

[1] Eliel Aspelin-Haapkylä observed the connections of the painting with the works of Gentile da Fabriano in his notes, where he wrote “Tuscan-Umbrian in the manner of Gentile da Fabriano”. Literature Archives of the Finnish Literature Society, folder A469, Helsinki. I am indebted to Hanne Selkokari for this information.

[2] Sirén, Osvald, 1921. Tidiga Italienska Målningar i Finska Samlingar. Stenmans konstrevy no 4–5, 1921, 44.

[3] Sirén 1921, 43–44.

[4] Sirén 1921, 45. Sirén leaves any closer dating open by noting: ”… and have cause to assume that he was already active several years previously.”

Featured image: Giovanni Boccati, The Adoration of the Magi, (1440–1445), oil on panel, 80cm x 53,2cm, Aspelin-Haapkylä Collection, Sinebrychoff Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

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