Photo: Kansallisgalleria | Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen


You can read the gallery texts on your own device. You may also listen the texts with a screen reader.

Touring the exhibition

The wall texts are mounted on the walls of the exhibition galleries. Each gallery has its own theme, which is explained in the wall texts. This tour starts from gallery 1.2 on the ground floor and continues to the main gallery on the second-level mezzanine. The tour continues clockwise through the exhibition. If you complete the entire round, you will find the last artworks of the tour in the Studio gallery (2.8), which is a separate interactive space for museum visitors, close to the main gallery.

Gallery 1.2

A Question of Time

When we set out to build a new collection display, we took change as our starting point, both in Finnish society and around the world. Our key concerns were the stories the Finnish National Gallery collection can tell us today, and how it could truly be a collection for the whole nation. We want to bring our collection closer to people’s everyday lives while offering opportunities for visitors from different walks of life to identify with it. We thus chose four main themes for the display, each exploring some urgent issue of our time: Art and Power, the Age of Nature, Images of a People, and Modern Life.

Art and Power. Who chooses the paintings we look at? How did the “grand narrative” of the Ateneum emerge, and how was it forged? What part did chance play in it? This theme showcases dedicated art collectors, donors and power figures who have played a role in shaping the collection.

The Age of Nature. What is humanity’s role in nature? Are we masters of creation or part of a delicate web of interdependent species? This theme focuses on how nature is presented in art and how different species are portrayed. That includes humanity – as either a part of nature or its prime exploiter.

Images of a People. Who is deemed a Finnish, European or world citizen? How have such classifications changed over time? This theme unpacks the construction of national identity in the visual arts and considers those who are omitted.

Modern Life. The collection under the Ateneum’s purview can be considered a collection of the modern era. This theme explores modernity and its upheavals, such as industrialisation, urbanisation, the emancipation of women, the growth of leisure time and the disintegration of class society. It does so through five thematic areas: City, Childhood, Rhythm, Nocturne and Composition.

Marja Sakari

Museum Director

Ateneum Art Museum

Gallery 1.3

Donations and acquisitions

Art museum collections generally grow in two ways: through donations and purchases. The Ateneum has been the recipient of prestigious private collections built up over many decades. Acquisitions, on the other hand, have been decided on both collectively and by individuals. Factors affecting acquisitions include donations, the availability of art and historically changing valuations. The Ateneum collection can be characterised as an extensive and art-historically comprehensive national gallery collection. The museum seeks to be systematic in its acquisition policies. Works have also been purchased in connection with research and exhibitions.

Kuvassa on Ateneumin 1. kerroksen salit, joissa nähdään teema Museot ja valta. Käytävän päässä seisoo Wäinö Aaltosen veistos Graniittipoika ja vasemmalla etualalla nähdään Ilja Repinin Taiteilija Jelizaveta Zvantsevan muotokuv sekä Walter Runebergin Nukkuva Amor.

Gallery 1.4

Art and power – Who chooses the paintings we look at?

The theme Art and Power turns the spotlight on the passionate collectors, donors and art experts – patrons and power brokers – who have shaped the Ateneum Art Museum collection.

The Ateneum is home to the largest and most comprehensive art collection in Finland, comprising more than 28,000 works. Many of the works were received as donations from individuals and couples whose motive for collecting was simply their deep love of art. The collection has also grown through acquisitions overseen by the museum’s experts.

The Ateneum Art Museum collection tells the story of Finnish art, highlighting the artists, the specialists who acquired art, and the people who made the donations. The purpose of the works and compilations chosen for this theme is to illustrate their impact on the collection. The domain of art takes the form of a network in which relationships, money, power and chance all play their part in determining which images we get to look at.

Prints and drawings

The collection of the Finnish National Gallery includes a large number of paper-based art, mostly prints, drawings and sketches. Each selection in this gallery comes from either a donor collection or from the work of a single artist: the Rolando and Siv Pieraccini Collection, the Tuomo Seppo Collection, graphic artist Aune Mikkonen, artist Juhana Blomstedt, and Japanese woodblock prints from the Antell Delegation Collection. The selection changes every three months.

Gallery 1.5

A shared heritage

Acquisitions were initially made by the Finnish Art Society, founded in 1846. In 1939 the collection and its management were passed over to a foundation set up for the purpose. In 1990, the collections became property of the State. Today, the collection is administered by the Finnish National Gallery. The Ateneum Art Museum is responsible for artworks dated from the 1750s onwards and for the work of artists whose career began before 1970.

Hundreds of works of art continue to be added to the National Gallery collections every year. The director and curatorial team of the Ateneum often receive offers for donations and acquisitions. Each accession of a work into the collection is carefully weighed. The museum also monitors the art market closely. Development of the collection continues to be affected by the art that becomes available through various channels.

Main Gallery 2.9

The Age of Nature

Art has contributed to our ideas of nature. As our relationship with nature changes, so too changes how we look at art. The anthropocentric mindset has a long history in Western culture. The Age of Nature turns the focus towards humanity as part of the totality of nature. It challenges the human-centred worldview, the idea that homo sapiens is superior to and separate from the rest of existence.

Looking at artworks from the perspective of environmental science, we see more than just human history, and we realise that we are one species among others. As the nature around us changes, we may ask: How should we, as humans, change ourselves and our behaviour?

Ripustuskuva Luonnon aika -salista. Vasemmalla Hjalmar Munsterhjelm, Laidun Hämeessä, 1881, keskellä Emil Wolff, Telefos, jota naarashirvi ruokkii.

Gallery 2.11

Modern life – how does it feel?

The thematic section Modern Life showcases art from the 1900s. Known as the century of modernism, it was a period of great upheaval driven by a belief in technology, progress and a better future. But it was also a time marked by devastating wars and revolutions, as well as experiences of otherness and alienation.

With the upheavals came the rise of new forms of expression in European art and culture, and avantgarde trends that rejected the imitation of nature. Still, most Finnish modernist art remained figurative, taking the form of landscapes, still lifes and portraits.

A central idea in the artworks featured in this section is the duality of time. Experiences of loneliness and alienation go hand in hand with optimism and a sense of hope. Society’s structural transformations, urbanisation and rapid changes in everyday life find expression in works where artists depict their personal contemporary experiences, pondering how the present feels or what they see in their environment, for example. Many of the experiences also resonate today. It is time to ask: Where is the modern era leading, and what kind of future awaits us?

Modern Life is divided into five themes: City, Childhood, Rhythm, Nocturne, and Composition.


Among the key features of modernist art are the rejection of figurative motifs, the disintegration of form, and twodimensionality. Influences of the European avantgarde and American pop art gradually begin to show in Finnish art, especially after the wars. Stylistic art movements, “isms”, became more common. The focus on the present is reflected in the choice of subject matter: the works deal with key events of the era.

Works depicting the modern experience often present the urban, frenetic rhythm of life in parallel with more melancholy and dreamlike moods. Rhythm is movement and hopefulness, yet it also incorporates more sombre strains and a sense of social engagement.


In music and art, nocturne refers to night-time views and nature-based mysticism. Daylight is gone and darkness – threatening and unpredictable – advances, also on a symbolic level. Nocturnes have been inspired by the blue northern twilight, natural phenomena and white summer nights, but also by urban night skies and street-lit parks. Nocturnes can be views of the artist’s physical environment but also mental landscapes and memories.

Gallery 2.12

Still life

The still life is an age-old subject and genre in art. Traditional still life styles like vanitas and memento mori symbolise transience and mortality, but still lifes can depict everyday subjects as well.

Modernism introduced a new layer to still life painting, one divorced from figurative depiction. Alongside classic subjects, still lifes appeared that played with scale and technique, and even photographs and compositions of objects. Imitation of reality gave way to compositions of form and colour that nevertheless pursue the still life artist’s quest for harmony and aesthetics. Modernist still lifes are like a treasure chest that encompasses all the styles, techniques and materials of visual arts.

Gallery 2.13


In the first decades of the 20th century, the city became an increasingly frequent subject in art. Artists observed their surroundings, the burgeoning city and the urban lifestyle. In art, the urban space reflected the idea of a growing nation.

The city was also seen as a state of mind – at times colourful and dynamic, but also desolate and downcast. The urban pace of life is fast and dangerous. Industrialisation also saw the rise of the working class and of disadvantage: the promise of a better future was not realised for everyone. In works of art depicting the city, faith in the future and experiences of alienation appear side by side.


In the first decades of the 20th century, the city became an increasingly frequent subject in art. Artists observed their surroundings, the burgeoning city and the urban lifestyle. In art, the urban space reflected the idea of a growing nation.

The city was also seen as a state of mind – at times colourful and dynamic, but also desolate and downcast. The urban pace of life is fast and dangerous. Industrialisation also saw the rise of the working class and of disadvantage: the promise of a better future was not realised for everyone. In works of art depicting the city, faith in the future and experiences of alienation appear side by side.

Ripustuskuva Lapsuus-teeman teoksista. Kuvassa alhaalla oikealla Väinö Kunnaksen teos Kirsin satunurkka ja sen vieressä kuvan keskellä Pirkko Lepistön Kesähypyt.

Gallery 2.14 and 2.15

Paperbased works

The works in these corridor galleries are prints and other paperbased works from the Finnish National Gallery collection. The works on show reflect the themes of A Question of Time. Due to their light-sensitivity, the works are replaced every three months.

Gallery 2.1

From rococo to romanticism – Art from the 1700s to the 1800s

The Ateneum building was completed and became operational as a museum in 1888. The history of the Ateneum Art Museum, however, goes back even further, to the founding of the Finnish Art Society in 1846 and its first acquisitions of artworks. Even before that, professional artists were practising in Finland.

This gallery presents a selection of works from the early history of Finnish art, before the building of the Ateneum or the founding of the Finnish Art Society. The selection includes works from 18th century Rococo and Gustavian periods to paintings from the Romantic and Biedermeier periods in the early 19th century. Their subjects range from children’s portraits to character studies and from still lifes to travel scenes. Idealised pictures of Finnish landscapes and lifestyle had their heyday in the mid-19th century. The atmosphere in the von Wright brothers’ paintings of life at home and in the garden is serene and timeless. Works by pioneers of Finnish art education, such as Berndt Godenhjelm, a teacher at the Helsinki Drawing School, and Adolf von Becker, who founded his own art school, are both represented in the Finnish National Gallery collection.

Ripustuskuva rokokoo-muotokuvien salista.

Sali 2.4

Images of a people – How is Finnishness portrayed?

Images of a People examines the portrayal of Finland’s national identity in art. The art featured in this section consists of works associated with the construction of the country’s national identity, a key goal in Finnish society and culture from the mid1800s onwards. Art was a vehicle for demonstrating what Finnishness is – and what it purportedly is not. The idea conveyed by these works was that of a people who delight in nature and landscapes, care for their children, are eager to learn and hard-working, and believe in a Christian God. The gender hierarchy is clear: men and women each have their own duties.

Images of a People includes works that embody a more varied view of life in Finland and along its borders. Every definition of a people equally implies exclusion, however; minorities have often been left in the margins of nationalism, either invisible or deliberately excluded.

Many of the artworks appearing in this thematic whole are classics cherished by many Finns. On the other hand, the kind of Finnishness portrayed in them can also appear narrow or even alien to modern eyes.

As our idea of Finnish identity changes and becomes more diverse, it is time to ask: Who gets to appear in the images that define the nation? And who is missing?

Gallery 2.5

Art and the class society

The Swedish society’s estate system was upheld by the Grand Duchy. Membership of any one of the four ruling estates meant behaving accordingly, implying acceptance of the system as the natural order. Those outside of the estates were commoners who owned almost nothing.

Members of the estates and commoners were both portrayed in art. The lifestyle associated with the estates was frequently quite European, including foreign travel and awareness of the latest trends. Artistic depictions of the estateless tended to centre on poverty and child labour. One may speculate whether these were seen as necessary evils or were they glorified in art in order to soothe the collective conscience?

Gallery 2.6


Not all artists felt the need to explore their national origins. Instead, some searched for a common ground of humanity that belongs to all of creation. The search for such wisdom often involved a study of hidden knowledge.

Alongside esoteric learning and philosophy, another source for wisdom was mythology, including the Finnish epic poem of The Kalevala. The idea that myths might be repositories of timeless wisdom boosted the popularity of Nordic art in European centres. Art from the north, including Finland, had a reputation for authenticity and originality. National and international elements intermingled unnoticed.

Touchable sculptures

General information

Below is a list of artworks that may be touched by permission and only when wearing vinyl gloves. Touching the sculptures is reserved for the visually impaired visitors only. This is done usually under the supervision of a museum guide and takes place in a group. However, permission to touch these works can also be granted to a visual impaired visitor who attend the exhibition with a personal assistant.


All jewellery such as rings, bracelets and watches, metal clasps, etc. must be removed, even when wearing gloves. This applies also to assistants and other guides. The works that may be touched can be identified in the galleries by the Braille tag beside the work or its label.

If no Braille tag is provided, the work must not be touched.

Please note! It is forbidden to move or lift the sculptures. Always wear vinyl gloves, which are available on request at the museum info desk. Sizes S, M and L.

Theme: Art and power

Ground floor: Gallery 1.5

Wäinö Aaltonen (1894-1966), Finnish

Granite Boy I, 1917-1922

material: red granite

Max Ernst (1891-1976), German

Genius of the Bastille, 1960-1961

material: bronze

Theme: The Age of Nature

Gallery 2.9 /  the Main Gallery     

Theme: The Age of Nature

Jussi Mäntynen (1886-1978), Finnish

Elk Calf, 1930

material: diorite

Olavi Lanu (1925-2015), Finnish

Rusted Patch of Willow I-III, 1987

material: fibreglass

Ripustuskuva Kansan kuvat -osion salista. Oikealla Haavoittunut enkeli ja keskellä Pekka Halosen Kanteleensoittaja. Vasemmassa reunassa on ruutu, jossa teksti: Tervetuloa Ateneumiin!

Welcome to the Ateneum!

Back to the exhibition page