Ihmisiä portaikossa ja aulassa ilmaispäivänä.
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

The story of Ateneum

The Ateneum is the home of Finnish art and part of the Finnish National Gallery. Our collection includes more than 20,000 national treasures; works of art that we all own together. We have art dating from the 19th century to modernity.

The Ateneum – an art museum of shared stories 

Beloved masterpieces of visual art by Albert Edelfelt, Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Helene Schjerfbeck, Hugo Simberg, Ellen Thesleff and other Finnish artists tell the story of Finnish art, while tracing the development of our nation. 

International artists in our collection include Paul Cézanne, Marc Chagall, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, Vilhelm Hammershøi and Fernand Léger. In recent years, we have held successful temporary exhibitions starring artists such as Tove Jansson, Amedeo Modigliani and Pablo Picasso. 

The works in our holdings create shared views of the world, both past and future. We want to use the power of art to generate new perspectives, insights and empathy. 

The Ateneum has been the home of art since 1888. Many of Finland’s great artists have studied in the building, which housed an art school until the 1980s. Even today, the Ateneum is a living house of art that invites people not only to exhibitions but also to thought-provoking events. 

The Ateneum architecture 

The Neo-Renaissance Ateneum building, designed by the architect Theodor Höijer, was completed in 1887. It opened to the public on 13 October 1888. The sculptural decorations on the main facade of the Ateneum building form a visual narrative that is all about equality and harmony between the visual arts and the applied arts. Another key theme is the connection of Finnish art and architecture to the tradition of Western art. Click on the question marks in the image for more information on details of the Ateneum building’s facade. 

The Ateneum history 

From a palace costing millions to a temple of the arts 

The name Ateneum refers to the Greek goddess, Pallas Athena, who was the goddess of knowledge and wisdom and the protectress of the state. Ateneum means the temple or shrine of Athena. 

The Ateneum Art Museum offers access to Finland’s oldest and largest collection of art. The building itself is an experience. The building, designed by the architect Theodor Höijer, was inaugurated in November 1887, but the foundations for the Ateneum art collection and museum activities had been laid decades earlier. The aim of the Finnish Art Society, which was founded in 1846, was to establish the prerequisites for art in Finland: art education and exhibition activities. Ateneum-rakennus, postikortti, n. 1887. Arkistokokoelmat, Kansallisgalleria.

The construction project, dubbed as ‘a million-markka palace’, generated interest, but also opposition. The plan was based on the idea of Carl Gustaf Estlander, a professor of aesthetics, for a single house of the arts in which the visual arts and the applied arts would thrive side by side. Indeed, the Ateneum building initially housed the collection and drawing school of the Finnish Art Society, as well as the collection and school of the Finnish Society of Crafts and Design. 

The art schools were among the most modern in Europe: from the outset, the doors were open to both female and male students. Many of Finland’s prominent artists and designers studied at the Ateneum until the 1980s. Since 1991, the Ateneum has served exclusively as an art museum. The drawing school of the Finnish Art Society is now the Academy of Fine Arts and part of the University of the Arts Helsinki. The museum of the applied arts is now the Design Museum, and the Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture offers education in the field. 

Today, the Ateneum is an internationally renowned and recognised art museum, and its collections and exhibitions attract hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. It is part of the Finnish National Gallery, whose art collection is part of our shared national heritage. The Finnish National Gallery comprises the Ateneum Art Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, and the Sinebrychoff Art Museum. 

Explore the entire art collection 

The works in the collections of the Ateneum, Kiasma and Sinebrychoff art museums can be explored on the Finnish National Gallery website. You can search for works by title, year, artist’s name, or theme. Copyright-free works can be downloaded directly from the website. 

Search the Finnish National Gallery collection