Museums & Galleries
photo © Discovering Finland
There are over 1,000 museums in Finland, including museums of Art, Cultural History, Natural History, and almost 20 national Specialised museums. Although over a third of the Finnish museums are run professionally, the Finns love of culture and history is most clearly seen in the number of locally run museums and galleries present in every town and city.
The first museum in Finland, The Ethnographic Museum set up by the University of Helsinki, was established in 1840, with others opening across the country thereafter, thanks in no small part to the growing national awakening of the time, as exemplified by the development of a Finnish language intelligentsia and the creation of the Finnish Party in politics. Today, Finland’s national central museums are The Finnish Museum of Natural History, which is managed and owned by Helsinki University, The National Museum of Finland, and the Finnish National Gallery which comprises Ateneum, Kiasma, and the Sinebrychoff Art Museum.
At the regional level, there are 20 provincial museums of cultural history and 16 provincial art museums in Finland, responsible for promoting and guiding museum activities in their own area. In addition, there are numerous local museums and almost every population centre of any note will also have at least one art gallery.
The following is by no means a definitive list, but is meant more as an introduction to the most popular, most visited, museums, galleries, and cultural centres in Finland.
The Finnish Museum of Natural History
Located in Helsinki, The Finnish Museum of Natural History is an independent research institution functioning under the University of Helsinki, and one of the three central national museums in Finland. It is responsible for the national collections in its fields, which include botany, zoology, geology, biology, and paleontology.
The National Museum of Finland
Situated in a building designed by architects Herman Gesellius, Armas Lindgren, and Eliel Saarinen in central Helsinki, The National Museum of Finland presents Finnish history from the Stone Age to the present day, through objects and cultural history in permanent exhibitions divided into 6 parts. These are: The Treasure Troves, collections of coins, medals, orders and decorations, silver, jewellery and weapons; Prehistory of Finland, the largest permanent archeological exhibition in Finland; The Realm, which explores the development of Finnish society and culture from the Middle Ages 12th century to the early 20th century; The Land and Its People, Finnish folk culture in 18th-19th centuries; and The 20th century exhibition which presents independent Finland and its united and international culture.
Ateneum Art Museum
Belonging to the Finnish National Gallery, the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki houses the largest collections of art in Finland, from the Gustavian period of the mid 18th century to the modernist movements of the 1950s, and includes the best loved Finnish masterpieces. The museum also houses a handsome collection of international art, featuring works by such masters as Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Paul Cézanne, Fernand Léger and Marc Chagall.
Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Located in the heart of Helsinki, and part of the Finnish National Gallery, the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma is an open forum for the exchange of opinions and a continuous redefinition of art and culture. Kiasma’s programme includes exhibitions presenting Finnish and international contemporary art, collection displays, performances in the Kiasma Theatre, workshops, seminars and lectures.
Sinebrychoff Art Museum
The third museum belonging to the Finnish National Gallery, Sinebrychoff Art Museum in Helsinki is the only museum in Finland which specialises in old European art. Finland’s most valuable and internationally significant paintings of Old Masters are displayed here in a permanent collection which comprises about 20 private collections bequested to the museum.
Located in the summer villa of Fredrik Cygnaeus in Kaivopuisto Park, one of the few surviving wooden buildings in downtown Helsinki, the Cygnaeus Gallery is the oldest art museum in Finland. The permanent collection numbers almost 450 pieces, of which around 100 paintings, sculptures, and drawings are on view. In addition, the gallery puts on small-scale exhibitions, lectures, concerts, and other public events.
A specialist museum in Helsinki, DesignMuseo selects and maintains a design collection, and is responsible for research and documentation in its field, and for holding exhibitions on design history and contemporary products. The museum also organizes international exhibitions on Finnish art and design. DesignMuseo was founded in 1873 as a study collection for the arts and crafts school. It has operated in its current premises, a building designed in 1894 by architect Gustaf Nyström, since 1978.
The Seurasaari Open-Air Museum
This open-air museum is situated on an island in Meilahti, four kilometres from the centre of Helsinki, reached easily by taking the 24 bus. The museum comprises some 87 different buildings which display traditional Finnish life through the cottages, farmsteads, and manors of the last 400 years which have been relocated from all over Finland. These buildings and their interiors reflect the traditional lifestyles of crofters, peasants, farmers and gentry from the 18th to the 20th century.
Located in the capital of Finnish Lapland, Rovaniemi, Arktikum House is a museum, a science centre, and a popular cultural venue, providing unique insights into the way of life, history, and culture of Lapland and the Arctic regions of northern Finland. The Provincial Museum has a permanent exhibition entitled ‘Northern Ways’, presenting Sámi culture as well as the life of moose and bears in the wild, and the mythology that surrounds them, and small-scale models of Rovaniemi from 1939 and 1944. The University of Lapland’s Arctic Centre has a permanent exhibition entitled ‘The Change in the Arctic’ divided into 4 sections. These present the Arctic in a highly visual, interactive fashion; provide information on how humans, animals, and plants have adapted to the harsh environment; detail current changes in the Arctic; and question visitors on the Arctic’s future.
The Aine Art Museum
Finnish expressionism from the beginning of the 20th century, the Prisma-group from the 1950s and 1960s, and the arts of Northern Finland are all well represented in the permanent collections of the Aine Art Museum in Tornio, where there are some 2,300 pieces on display. In addition to the basic collections, the museum hosts 4 to 5 temporary exhibitions annually, mostly from the field of visual arts but also from the fields of photography and industrial arts.
Walter Runeberg’s Sculpture Collection
Located on Aleksanterinkatu in Porvoo, in the house adjacent to the home of J.L. Runeberg (the National Poet of Finland), is the Walter Runeberg Sculpture Collection. Runeberg was one of the most important Finnish sculptors, and the collection includes more than 100 of his works, including the drafts for his monumental works of art, plaster sculptures, and a large portrait gallery.
EMMA | Espoo Museum of Modern Art
Set up by the Espoo Art Museum Foundation in 2002, EMMA is located in the WeeGee building in the garden city of Tapiola in Espoo. With 5,000 square metres of exhibition space, it has the largest area of any museum in Finland.As well as displaying its own collections, which include the City of Espoo and the Saastamoinen Foundation Art collections, EMMA has changing exhibitions of contemporary and 20th century art from Finland and abroad.
The Saastamoinen Foundation Art collection comprises more than 1,900 works of Finnish classical modernism and contemporary art (Finnish and international), most of which are on permanent exhibition. The City of Espoo collection includes work on display in municipal offices, buildings, and in outdoor areas. Concentrating mostly on Finnish contemporary art, part of the collection is on display in the museum.
Turku Art Museum
Playing a prominent part in the artisitic life of Turku since 1904, Turku Art Museum is now housed in a modern museum designed by architect Gustav Nyström, where it exhibits contemporay, modern and classical art from Finland, Scandanavia and the Baltic region. Its collection contains approximately 6,000 works, covering the period from the beginning of the 19th century up to the present day, as well as a selection of Scandanavian art from the 18th century up to today. There is also a collection of graphic art and drawings by Finnish and international artists.
The Maritime Museum of Finland
Located in coastal city of Kotka, the ultra-modern Maritime Museum of Finland houses numerous exhibitions devoted to the sea and the regions longstanding seafaring traditions, including collections from the Maritime Museum of Finland and Museum of Kymelaakso. The museum is housed in an extraordinary building designed by Professor Ilmari Lahdelma, the shape of which reflects the motion of the seas, with facades that depict the glimmer of the sea’s surface. There are notable ships on the museums mooring quay, including the Icebreaker Tarmo, which is the oldest of its kind in the world, and the coast guard vessel Telkkä.
Sara Hildén Art Museum
Maintained by the City of Tampere, the Sara Hildén Art Museum is the permanent home of the Sara Hildén Foundation’s extensive collection of modern art. The collection is quite comprehensive, consisting of around 4,500 works which present a broad cross-section of the developments in modern art over the last 40 years. The museum also arranges temporary exhibitions which include prestigious overviews of international modernism.
Ostrobothnian Museum | Terranova Kvarken Nature Centre
The Ostrobothnian Museum presented its first exhibition in 1896 in temporary premises. Today, the museum is housed in a building designed by the architect Eino Forsman, and has around 10,000 works in its collections. There are four main collections housed here, the largest of which is Hedman’s Art Collection, which contains Finnish art approximately from the year 1870-1930 as well as foreign art mainly from the Netherlands and Italy from the 15th-17th centuries. The Ostrobothnian Museum’s Collection complements Hedman’s collection. It contains both contemporary and regional art. It also contains art that the Finnish savings bank acquired for the former province of Vaasa and a collection from the Nelin-Cronström’s art home. The Collection of the City of Vaasa consists of art that has been acquired for the City’s premises and public spaces. The collection has been assembled from the 1970’s onward. In addition to domestic art, this collection contains foreign works of art. Finally, the Vaasa Art Association’s Collection containing works by Helene Schjerfbeck, Ester Helenius, Frans Hiivanainen, Wäinö Aaltonen, and Arvi Mäenpää, among others. In 2002 the natural science exhibition called Terranova was opened in the museum’s ground level. The exhibition is about land elevation in the Kvarken region.
Northern Ostrobothnia Museum | Oulu Museum of Art | Tietomaa
These three very different museums are all located in Ainola Park in the Myllytulli neighbourhood of Oulu. The Northern Ostrobothnia Museum deals with the cultural history of the city of Oulu and the surrounding province, and has been in existence since 1896. The permanent exhibition traces the history of the region from prehistoric times to the modern era, and includes a tribute to the life and work of Samuli Paulaharju, a Sámi author and folklorist, in the Lapland department.
A little further into Ainola Park is OMA, the Oulu Museum of Art, which organises over 10 changing exhibitions, both old classics and modern art, annually. The emphasis in the collections is usually on Ostrobothnian and Nordic identities. The museum also hosts almost one hundred events and activities over the course of the year, including lectures, workshops, and performances related to the exhibitions. Directly across from OMA, Finland’s first science centre, Tietomaa, has changing theme exhibitions that consist of over 150 exhibits, with a magnificent super screen theatre and a glass elevator with a view over Oulu.
Imatra Art Museum
Located in the centre of Imatra in the Cultural Centre, which also houses the Town Museum of Cultural History, the Imatra Art Museum was founded in 1951, largely through the efforts of Jari Sihtola, a Chartered Engineer who accumulated a considerable art collection over the course of his life. The exhibition areas feature permanent collections and temporary displays. The art collection housed in the Museum consists of works owned by the City of Imatra and the Imatra Art Society, totalling over 1400 items. The focus of the collection is on 20th century Finnish art.
Siida – Sámi museum and Northern Lapland Nature Centre
Siida is a museum located on Lake Inari in the village of Inari. It is home to the Sámi Museum and Northern Lapland Nature Centre. The purpose of the Sámi Museum is to document the spiritual and material cultural heritage of the Finnish Sámi in its collections, and to display this tradition in Siida’s exhibitions. The museum aims to make Siida a lively center of Sámi culture, and to strengthen thereby the identity and cultural self-esteem of the Sámi. Since 1999, the Sámi Museum Siida has had the nationally declared status as the special museum for preserving the culture of the Finnish Sámi.
Fortress of Lappeenranta
Developed by General Alexander Suvorov on the initial fortifications of the town by the Swedes, the Fortress of Lappeenranta was completed in the 1790s. Following the Finnish War of 1808-1809, Finland became an autonomic Grand Duchy of Russia and the fortress lost its imporance in defence. During the wars of the 20th century Lappeenranta Fortress was a military area and a prison. Between 1976 and 2006 the fortress was restored, and today it is one of Finland’s top destinations to visit, housing the South Karelia Museum, South Karelia Art Museum and Cavalry Museum, as well as shops, cafés, and the oldest Russian Orthodox Church in Finland.