In 1809 Finland became the Grand Duchy of Finland, an autonomous state of the Russian Empire. At the turn of the 20th century, Finns reacted to Russia’s intensifying policy of Russification by fostering and cultivating Finnish language, culture and identity. The National Museum of Finland was the most important construction project of the time. It was built for the purpose of strengthening the Finnish cultural identity.
The architect trio Herman Gesellius, Armas Lindgren and Eliel Saarinen – the leading Finnish architectural office in the early 20th century – won the architectural competition for the National Museum in 1902, and the building work was conducted mainly between 1905 and 1910.
Gesellius, Lindgren and Saarinen designed a national-romantic Art Nouveau manifesto for the building that was also completely in touch with the latest international trends. The design represents European ideals in museum architecture at that time in which each department has its own architectural appearance. However, the departments also display a clear national identity; for example, the architecture of the department of church art is reminiscent of medieval Finnish stone churches. Details also play an important role in the architecture: the unique sculptural ornamentation was inspired by Finnish folklore.
The fact that the large and complex building forms a coherent whole is also testimony to the exceptional talent of the three architects. Armas Lindgren made a major contribution to the design of the National Museum. In fact, he finalised the plans after the architectural office closed down in 1905. The demanding interior design work and exhibition work continued until 1916 when the museum was finally opened to the public.