The Ateneum building was inaugurated in 1887. The building housed the Art Society and its collections and the society’s Drawing School (today the Academy of Fine Arts), the Finnish Association of Applied Arts (today the Design Museum) and its collections, as well as the School of Applied Arts (today the Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture).
The international architectural competition for the Ateneum museum and school building was held in 1883. The competition was won by a German architect, Arthur Walter, but the jury did not recommend his proposal for execution. Instead, in 1884, the Senate commissioned the Finnish architect Theodor Höijer to design the new house of art. Höijer was a well-known architect of commercial buildings. Höijer’s design for Ateneum is a good example of Finnish 1880s’ architecture. The monumental main staircase dominates the interior space in the core of the building. The brick building with an ornate plaster façade represents the Neo-Renaissance style.
The main façade has many interesting art historical details. Above the main entrance are portrayed three undisputed masters: Italian Renaissance painter Raphael, ancient Greek Phidias and Renaissance architect Donato Bramante. The central avant-corps is ornamented with four female figures, the caryatids who support the pediment. They represent architecture, geometry, painting and sculpture, emphasising Ateneum’s original concept as a building bringing together all the arts. The pediment is dominated by a sculpture of Greek goddess Pallas Athene, the guardian of arts by sculptor Carl Eneas Sjöstrand. The façade also consists of medallions representing some of the best-known artists in Finland in the 19th century by sculptor Ville Vallgren. The artists represented are, i.e. painters Alexander Lauréus and Werner Holmberg and German-born architect Carl Ludvig Engel. The Latin inscription on the façade, Concordia res parvae crescunt translates as With concord, small things grow.
In 1988, it was decided that Ateneum would be dedicated to an art museum. A renovation and expansion by LPR Architects were completed in 1991. The Ateneum Art Museum opened its doors the same year. Since then, the building has been used exclusively as a museum and exhibition space of Finnish National Gallery.
Source: Ateneum Art Museum