The Viipuri Friends of Art Association’s art collection

The Viipuri Friends of Art Association (Viipurin Taiteenystävät ry or VTY) was established in Viipuri in 1890 to promote visual arts. The following year, the association started a drawing school in Viipuri. The first teacher was Arvid Liljelund, a painter who had previously taught at the Finnish Art Society’s Drawing School in Helsinki from 1869 to 1876. During the early years, the drawing school had pupils like Uno Ullberg and Hugo Simberg. Later, Simberg also worked as a teacher at the school for one school year. The school’s longest-standing director and teacher from 1900 to 1940 was Rurik Lindquist. During this time, Viipuri became the third Finnish town offering art studies after Helsinki and Turku.

The association organised art exhibitions in Viipuri from which the town of Viipuri, the association itself and others acquired art for their respective collections. The town’s first purchases related to the future Art Museum collection included Albert Edelfelt’s Larin Paraske and Berndt Lindholm’s Evening in the Forest (Ilta metsässä). In 1900, the association set up its own fund for building up its art collection. VTY’s own collection began to accumulate in 1895, with the association receiving as a donation works like In a Boat on the Pond (Veneessä lammella) by Gunnar Berndtson.

The members constantly planned and dreamed about establishing an art museum. On the association’s proposal, the Viipuri Town Council decided in 1928 on a new building to be shared by the art museum and drawing school. The building was designed by architect Uno Ullberg (1879–1944), who acted as secretary for VTY at the time. The long-awaited Viipuri Art Museum and Art School was opened in October 1930 on the Pantsarlahti bastion. The town of Viipuri’s art collection, Wilhelm Grommé’s donation collection and the Viipuri Friends of Art Association’s collection were moved to the museum from the Town Hall. VTY’s Art School was housed in one of the two wings of the classicist building. The institutions only got to enjoy the new premises for less than ten years, as the Viipuri Art Museum and Art School’s operations ended in the autumn of 1939 due to the war. The works in the collections were evacuated to safety in late autumn of 1939, right before the war. The evacuation was the responsibility of Rurik Lindquist, artist and keeper of the museum.

During the war years, the association’s works were stored at the Peura Museum in Rautalammi, along with other works evacuated from the Viipuri Art Museum. The Lahti and Hämeenlinna art museums, which were founded in the early 1950s, both received deposits from the collections of the Viipuri Art Museum. Both cities have works from the town of Viipuri’s art collections. The collections of the Historical Museum were located in Lahti, while the works of the Viipuri Friends of Art Association ended up in Hämeenlinna.

In the mid-1980s, the association wanted to move some of its works from Hämeenlinna to the South Karelia Art Museum (now the Lappeenranta Art Museum) in Lappeenranta. The association and the city of Hämeenlinna had differing views on the permanence of the deposit, and the matter was tried in different courts for years. The supreme court found that the association has the right of possession over the works it owns, and the association transferred 24 works in the collection to Lappeenranta in 1990. The Hämeenlinna Art Museum deposits 47 works. The works of art collected after the war were deposited in Lappeenranta already in the early 1980s. The Viipuri Friends of Art Association is still active and acquires art for the deposit collection.

The Viipuri Friends of Art Association’s collection has significant art-historical value. It includes representatives of Finnish masters of fine arts. Famous works in Lappeenranta include Tyko Sallinen’s St. Malo from 1914, Victor Westerholm’s Kymijoki from 1902, and Pekka Halonen’s Rapids (Koski) and Landscape from Ladoga (Maisema Laatokalta) from the beginning of the 20th century. The Lappeenranta Art Museum has a total of 102 paintings and graphics. The focus is on older Finnish paintings.