C.G. Estlander
C.G. Estlander

In September 1870 there was an assembly with Z. Topelius as chairman to ponder the question of education. What should be done 'for the benefit of the young generation, who often come to the workshops without the least elementary knowledge and lack even the traditional training that previously had been given by the craft guilds'. During the meeting professor Carl Gustaf Estlander proposed that a handicraft school be established in Helsinki to develop the 'sense of art and preparedness' of the youths that already worked in industry and handicrafts. This School of Applied Arts was opened in the Kasarmikatu school building on January 11th, 1871. The education of industrial design had started in Finland.


Carl Gustaf Estlander received the doctor's degree in 1859. The following year he was appointed as docent of Esthetics and Contemporary Literature at the Imperial Alexander University. He was professor of the same chair from 1868 until the beginning of the 1890s.

Inspired by Kalevala, Estlander set off by studying European folklore of the Middle Ages. The most meritorious of his works is his study of Provençal poetry. His aim was to explain the origins of the poems in historical events and he was likewise able to skillfully characterize their esthetic value. Estlander also built the scientific ground for later research of the Finnish poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg. A noteworthy survey, 'Runebergs skaldskap' (the Poetry of Runeberg), was published as an introduction to the standard edition of the complete works of Runeberg edited by Estlander himself. He also published two studies on Arwidsson, and acted as literary critic. He can be considered as the pioneer of Finnish art history on the basis of his extensive general survey 'De bildande konsternas historia ifrån slutet af adertonde århundradet till våra dagar' (The History of the Visual Arts from the End of the 17th Century to Our Days) published in 1887.

During his student's days Estlander belonged to the 'Fennomans', but took a distance to them in the 1860s. He gradually began to emphasize the significance of the Swedish language as a guard against the pressure from the east. As a member of the school committee of the 1870s he even opposed the founding of Finnish-language schools.


According to his contemporaries, Estlander was an inspiring and many-sided person with ability to take initiatives. His production is extensive, his style being expressive and cultivated. He succeeded Topelius as the secretary to the Finnish Art Society and later as its chairman. He was a consequent advocate of a close cooperation between art and industrial design; on his initiative a society of industrial art was founded in 1874.

Three years earlier Estlander had published a pamphlet on the past and future development of Finnish art and industrial design. It aroused much attention. The booklet of 82 pages was very ingeniously composed. It discussed social life, art, and industry both at home and abroad in a lively manner.

In the background of the birth of the School of Applied Arts and the Finnish Society of Crafts and Design was a strive to improve the quality and grade of processing of Finnish products, and especially to promote the export of them. It was a necessity to export because of the small home market. Of greatest interest was the Russian market, particularly because of its low duties.

The establishing of the Society of Crafts and Design had a connection with Swedish-minded liberalism. Estlander started to take distance to the Fennomans whose main interest was to fight for the position of the Finnish language. There were also different views on the esthetic questions between the two groups: the Fennomans supported the idea of 'art for art's sake' cherished in Germany. The Liberals represented a utilitarian view. Its roots were in England. Art was a means of building a better society.

Estlander often talked about national existence 'as a goal for improving the grade of processing and better quality'. In 1873, during the world's fair arranged in Vienna to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Emperor Franz Joseph's reign, his idea of creating a permanent exhibition of 'model pieces' of industrial art products in Finland was born. In two articles published by the Helsingfors Dagblad Estlander pointed out the importance of having such a collection. The museum pieces of art could be used as models in the education of the arts and crafts school. Helsingfors Dagblad started a whip-round, and a state grant and a private donation were also received for the purpose. All in all the money bought 732 pieces of craft. The basis for a museum of industrial art had been created.


Estlander had already in his pamphlet of 1871 raised the question of 'a house of arts'. He thought of a building with shops on street level and 'a large two-storey festival hall with adjoining rooms' and also 'rooms especially suited to exhibitions', and 'accommodations for an arts and crafts school, a museum of industrial art, and for the Art Society'. Estlander's aim was above all to unite art proper and industrial art; this would gain both parties. The question was eagerly debated. Many persons, for instance Cygnaeus, who was the chairman of the Art Society, was negative to the idea. To take industry as a partner would, according to him, be a threat to the independence of the institutions. The Art Society and its collections would be overrun by the museum and the school of industrial art.

But the matter proceeded. The Senate took a positive stand to the plan, and likewise the Helsinki City Council. A building site was reserved by the Railway Square for the use of the Society of Crafts and Design and the Art Society. At the meeting of the Art Society in the beginning of 1877 a decisive vote was taken. The critics of the plan lost. The state bought the building site of Helsinki City, but in other respects the plan progressed slowly. An architectural competition was not announced until 1883. None of the competition entries was satisfying, and in the end the Senate gave Theodor Höijer the task to draw the plans. Construction started in 1884, and three years later it was possible for Estlander to make the inaugural speech in Ateneum, for the facade of which he had chosen his favourite motto 'Concordia res parvae crescunt'.

Estlander closed his inaugural speech for the splendid building with the words: 'Even though our art nowadays seeks its motifs among people and nature, let it still look at them with benevolent and loving eyes, and even though our art still has to use chisel and brush in the Parisian or Düsseldorf way, let its development steadily lead towards the moment, when the sculptures and paintings are not only to their contents but also to their form, native. With these premises and in this hope the fatherland presents the wreath. Receiving this great gift today art will probably be convinced of that it will not be left without wreaths even in the future'.

Ateneum. Kaivokatu 2-4
Kaivokatu 2-4.
©Photograph: Olof Sundström 1931. The Helsinki City Museum. 11004.