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.

Location

Mannerheimintie 34, Helsinki
60.17497327, 24.93200183

Images

National Museum
National Museum (© MFA)
National Museum
National Museum (© Kari Hakli / MFA)
National Museum
National Museum (© Simo Rista / MFA)
Main entrance., National Museum
Main entrance., National Museum (© Simo Rista / MFA)
National Museum
National Museum (© Comma Image / City of Helsinki Media Bank)
Kalevala themed frescoes by Akseli Gallen-Kallela from 1928 in the entrance hall., National Museum
Kalevala themed frescoes by Akseli Gallen-Kallela from 1928 in the entrance hall., National Museum (© National Board of Antiquities)
Drawing of east elevation facing Mannerheimintie, 1904., National Museum
Drawing of east elevation facing Mannerheimintie, 1904., National Museum (© National Board of Antiquities)
Ground floor plan., National Museum
Ground floor plan., National Museum (© MFA)
Scale model., National Museum
Scale model., National Museum (© MFA)
National Museum
National Museum (© MFA)

Additional media

Usko Nyström, Vilho Penttilä, competition entry
Usko Nyström, Vilho Penttilä, competition entry "Janus head", 3rd prize. , National Museum (© HYK, av-keskus / MFA)
Oscar Karl Bomanson, Harald Leonard Neovius, Bertel Jung, competition entry
Oscar Karl Bomanson, Harald Leonard Neovius, Bertel Jung, competition entry "M", 4th prize. , National Museum (© HYK, av-keskus / MFA)