Art Collection at Villa Mairea

Photo: Rauno Träskelin
Photo: Rauno Träskelin

The formation of the art collection at Villa Mairea was strongly influenced by Maire Gullichsen’s active work in bringing international art to Finland. On her initiative Artek organised significant foreign art exhibitions as early as the 1930s. These included the exhibition of French art at the Taidehalli Helsinki in 1939, which took a lot of work but was very successful. Maire Gullichsen opined that if such extensive exhibitions were to be organised recurrently, an association would be needed to support the work, and the Contemporary Art Society was established the same year. This society as well as Galerie Artek , founded in 1949, made it easier to organise art exhibitions. Thus people could continue to enjoy high-quality exhibitions  in Finland, featuring, for instance, Max Ernst, Jean Arp and Marino Marini.

Many of the works in Maire Gullichsen’s collection of modern art ended up in her possession through the exhibitions of the Contemporary Art Society and Galerie Artek. It was often a question of necessity, for there were costs involved in exhibitions and in order to cover these, works had to be sold. This kind of sponsorship was typical of Maire Gullichsen. She was primarily interested in increasing the public’s knowledge of art, not so much in expanding her own collection. Her purchases always involved feeling; she did not buy works that she did not like. She knew many of the artists whose works she bought, and many of them were her friends. Works by Finnish artist friends were also bought because Maire wanted to support them financially and encourage them to carry on. Since her collecting was based on personal preferences it was not very systematic. Her modern art collection includes several veritable masterpieces, but she also overlooked many chances to acquire remarkable works through her wide network.

At Villa Mairea one can mainly see works by foreign artists, and those on display are alternated. The collection of Finnish art was donated by Maire Gullichsen in 1971 to a foundation carrying her name, established for an art museum later set up in Pori. The art collection of the Mairea Foundation includes works by Léger, Picasso, Braque and Modigliani, among others.  Works of art are an essential part of Villa Mairea, where an exceptionally intimate relationship prevails between art and habitation. In the design phase, a scheme depicting a separate gallery wing persisted for a long time. In the final design, however, art has been integrated into the everyday environment. What is unique is that so many artists featuring in the collection were the collector’s personal acquaintances.  Through the works of art and the related stories the mental cultural heritage left by the owners of the house can be still sensed at Mairea today.