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The exhibition Treasures of the Palace that opens at the Ateneum Art Museum on 12 April 2013 presents the art collection and certain artefacts from the Presidential Palace, which is currently undergoing renovation. The exhibition includes the majority of paintings from the Presidential Palace, busts of the presidents and portraits of their spouses. It also offers information about the construction history of the almost 200-year-old palace and life in the palace over the centuries. Visitors to Ateneum can see not only works of art but also selected artefacts and pieces of furniture, as well as a replica of the presidential office.
The curators of Treasures of the Palace are Sointu Fritze, Chief Curator at Ateneum, and Erkki Anttonen, Project Manager at Ateneum. The exhibition architecture is by Marjaana Kinnermä. Some of the works on display have been restored this spring by the Conservation Department of the Finnish National Gallery. Visitors to Ateneum have been able to observe the conservation work on the ground floor of the museum.
The core of the exhibition consists of the imperial art collection and works on loan from Ateneum’s collection that have been on display at the Presidential Palace. The works in the imperial art collection were acquired from the mid-1850s to 1897, while the works from Ateneum’s collection have been deposited at the palace over the period of independence.
Displaying works of art in the imperial palace and later the Presidential Palace continues an old tradition in which art was an important part of the interior décor of European palaces, castles and manor houses. The Presidential Palace represents the supreme social authority in Finland, and the palace’s art collection reflects the expression of this authority in the form of dignity, prestige, culture, excellence, elegance and stability. Works in the collection were acquired from the leading Finnish artists of their time, from Ferdinand von Wright to Akseli Gallen-Kallela.
The Presidential Palace art collection comprises several broader themes, on the basis of which the exhibition Treasures of the Palace has been designed. Artists presented the Finnish landscape at its most beautiful and impressive, including picturesque scenes of forests and lakes from the interior of the country, as well as paintings of ships and the sea related to trade and seafaring. The palace walls of European rulers are also often adorned with images of warfare and national defence, emphasising national unity and strength. In these subjects, as in their portraits of the people, artists in the 19th century used artistic license to heighten the effect in keeping with the spirit of the time.
Visitors to Ateneum can enhance their experience with an audio guide narrated by presidential couples. Three earlier presidents and their spouses, as well as the President of the Republic and his wife, each talk about one work of art they have personally selected from the collection. The audio guide can be listened to on the Ateneum website and on headsets that can be rented at the museum.
Imperial art collection
The imperial art collection accumulated works from the leading Finnish artists of the time. The subjects of these works were not always to do with Finland, as many of the artists represented in the collection in the latter half of the 19th century studied and worked for long periods abroad. Accordingly, in addition to natural landscapes, the paintings from the Presidential Palace also include several urban scenes, especially from France.
The first works of art for the imperial palace in Helsinki were commissioned by Emperor Nicholas I in 1854-55. The paintings, which depicted scenes from the Crimean War, were not displayed in the palace until after the death of Nicholas I in March 1855. The majority of the works in the imperial art collection are from the period of Emperor Alexander II, 1855-1881. By 1897 the collection comprised 28 works by 19 artists. Seven more paintings were added to the collection later, having been originally purchased for and displayed at the imperial residence in Lappeenranta.
Works from Ateneum’s collection in the Presidential Palace
Selected works from Ateneum’s collection have been displayed in the Presidential Palace from autumn 1919 onwards. In addition to original works by Finnish and foreign artists, reproductions of paintings from famous masters were also deposited in the palace. One important purpose of these works was to be presentable, while also serving as a window on Finnish culture and history for visiting dignitaries. The paintings have also helped create an image of the unique characteristics of the Finnish nature.
The purpose of deposits from Ateneum’s collection has from the start been to supplement the imperial art collection with works by artists already featured in the collection or their contemporaries. Additional works have since been added to cover the early years of the 20th century.
The themes of the works deposited from Ateneum’s collection have varied over the years. At times iconic works of Finnish art that are these days on public display at Ateneum have been on loan to the Presidential Palace. For example, Women Outside the Church at Ruokolahti (1887) by Albert Edelfelt was displayed at the palace for many years before it returned to the museum. Other famous paintings that have been displayed at the palace include Capercaillies courting (1862) by Ferdinand von Wright and Imatra in Winter (1893) by Akseli Gallen-Kallela. The works deposited in the Presidential Palace are of the highest quality and are very representative of Finnish art from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s.
Treasures of the Palace 12.04-01.09.2013
Ateneum Art Museum Kaivokatu 2, 00100 Helsinki, www.ateneum.fi
Open: Tue & Fri 10-18; Wed & Thu 10-20; Sat & Sun 11-17, Mon closed
Tickets: €12/10, free admission for visitors under the age of 18
Tickets in advance: Lippupalvelu outlets and online shop, www.lippupalvelu.fi
Further information: Marja Istala Kumpunen, Communications Manager, tel. +358 (0)50 555 3551, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ateneum’s main partners are Helsingin Sanomat, HOK-Elanto and KPMG.