The year 1846 can justifiably be considered a landmark in the history of Finnish art, as that was the year in which the Finnish Art Society was founded. The purpose of the Society was to lay the foundation for Finnish art life.
At the time, there were no art museums in Finland, no permanent exhibitions, nor public appraisal of art. The Society adopted as its ambitious goal the development of all these aspects of the Finnish art world. Another concern was to sustain artistic life in Finland: talents had to be discovered, scouted across the country, to provide them with education and training for their future role as pillars of the country’s art life, as workers for national culture.
Thus the Finnish Art Society developed into the support system that facilitated the consolidation of the social forces that were capable of laying the foundation for national culture. The core of the Society consisted of socially influential figures gathered around Fredrik Cygnaeus, and even included one of the few existing representatives of the profession. The movement to establish art societies was a very European phenomenon.
The first chairman of the Finnish Art Society was Privy Counsellor Baron Carl Johan Walleen, whose authority secured as the Society’s patron none other than Grand Duke Alexander, later Emperor Alexander III of Russia. The date of the Society’s founding was set for Alexander’s birthday, 10 March 1846.
C. J. Walleen
The Society awarded the first stipends to artists and organised the first art lottery as early as 1847, the second year of its operation. Very soon it also launched organised art education in Helsinki. The Helsinki Drawing School was founded in 1848 – a similar school had already operated in Turku for some years.
In 1851, the patron of the Society, Grand Duke Alexander, donated to the Society a, for its time, substantial collection of art. Comprising 28 works, the collection had been acquired from Baron O. W. Klinckowström. The donation was made on the condition that the works would be placed on exhibit. These 28 works were the first public art collection in Finland, and comprise the core of the Finnish national art gallery.
No suitable venue was found for the collection, however, until ten years after the donation. A dedicated museum of its own – a house for art – was not completed until 1887, and named the Ateneum at the suggestion of the then chairman of the Finnish Art Society, Professor of Aesthetics C. G. Estlander.
In 1858, the Finnish Art Society established a prize to be awarded to young, talented artists. Named the Ducat Prize after the gold ducat, it is awarded annually to a young Finnish artist under 35 in recognition of special merit.
The Finnish Art Society served for a long time as the body that augmented the collection of and provided background support for the Ateneum. The Society’s educational and museal functions were transferred in 1939 to the Finnish Fine Arts Academy Foundation, which had been established for the purpose. In 1990, the collections of the Ateneum Art Museum were transferred entirely to the State. The Art Society continues to function, but it no longer maintains a collection of its own, instead donating the works it acquires to its members in the annual lottery. The archive of the Finnish Art Society is kept in the Central Art Archives of Finland.
Source: Marjatta Levanto: Ateneum Opas, 1987. Otava, Helsinki.
FUNCTIONS OF THE ART SOCIETY
Under the first rules of the Finnish Art Society, adopted in 1846, the purpose of the Society was “to promote a sensibility for the fine arts in the fatherland, and to encourage persons to engage in the practice thereof who, by their nature, have a talent for it, but who lack the funds and the means to progress in it without external support”.
The Society aimed to fulfil this purpose by the purchase of artworks to be raffled among its members, by arranging exhibitions, and by supporting artists with grants.
The Drawing School of the Finnish Art Society in Helsinki was founded in 1848 for the training of professional artists.
The revised rules of the Society were ratified in 1868, giving precise definition to the Society’s status and organisation. The new rules stated, among other things: “The Society purchases, mostly from Finnish artists, works of art, some of which are annually raffled among the Society’s membership; organises public exhibitions; and maintains an art collection and drawing schools”.
The functions of the Society remained for the most part unchanged until the organisational change in spring 1939, when the Society’s museal and educational functions were transferred to the Finnish Fine Arts Academy Foundation, which was specifically established for the purpose. The Finnish Art Society continued to function as an art society.
Source: Finnish National Gallery, Central Art Archives, Virpi Harju