Collectors on tour

The exhibition Collectors On Tour presents treasures from the collections of Otto Wilhelm Klinckowström, Hjalmar Linder, Herman Antell, and Ester and Jalo Sihtola, among others. The works of art represent a period spanning the 15th to the 19th centuries – the stars of the exhibition include, for instance, Jacopo Bassano, Rembrandt van Rijn and Gerard ter Borch. Year 2021 marks the 100th anniversary of the donation of Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff’s collection, and highlights of their collection are also featured in the exhibition. By letting notable collectors share the spotlight with art from their collections, we honour the Sinebrychoff Collection.

Art collections tell us about the art and the ideals of their era. When examining a collection, we may peek into the collector’s dreams, emotions, hopes, and expectations. We can get whisked along to the hustle of European cities or transported to idyllic landscapes, to appreciate the sometimes surprising, sometimes painstakingly planned acquisitions. Acquisitions are often made based on emotions. How much is collecting art about personal likes and taste, and how much about belonging and fitting in? The exhibition focuses on the old masters. Most collectors were also interested in contemporary art. This brings into focus their significance as artists’ patrons. Furthermore, when collections become public, they provide us with a collective art experience. The art collection has been moved from collector’s home or salon to a museum, and it may have been divided into several parts. The collections have been uprooted, but the essential concept remains the same – the collections are on display. Art can offer us a chance to step into a world that did not really exist.

Collectors on Tour

Public art collections make the collectors visible. Who were they, exactly? What did they do? Many led a life of privilege, and some also had plenty of money available for their art purchases. Collecting may have offered an opportunity to step into another word – sometimes in the form of real-life journeys. Travel held a charm, otherness an allure. Going on a journey allows a breakaway from the world one normally inhabits. An unfamiliar scenery evokes new feelings and needs. One can turn into a different person. Art purchases are a way of acquiring a piece of another world. By immersing oneself in an idyllic landscape, it is also possible to travel to a time and place that never really existed. We can look into the horizon of a painting, let our gaze follow the skyline, a road winding between hills, admire the sea that glitters by the harbour docks. What kind of a journey are we embarking on? Video work Borgo (2002) takes the viewer along the maze of alleys in Rome. Perhaps our travelling collectors wandered through these same alleys, consulting their guidebooks?

Beauty and Illusion − The Klinckowström Collection

In the letters of his time baron Otto Wilhelm Klinckowström (1778–1850) cuts the image of an
international noble adventurer. Gossips and scandals were typical of the high society of the
time. The fear of losing one’s honour lurked behind the façade of the freedom of the elite life.
In Klinckowström’s case, the line between truth and fiction becomes blurry. Klinckowström
had a high status in both the Swedish court and later in the Russian regime. After the upheaval
in the Swedish political life he settled down in Finland during the first years of 1810s. He
became a central figure in the Helsinki society. His salon was described as the largest in the city.
Klinckowström was involved in the early years of activity of the Finnish Art Society. Some of the
paintings in his collection may have reminded the collector of his own travels and adventures,
perhaps of a romance that sparked in the Italian milieu. Klinckowström married Sarah Cuthbert
(1772–1838) in 1810.

”He Departed for the South Almost Every Spring” − Eliel Aspelin and the Wonderful Italy

For Eliel Aspelin (1847–1917) collecting art seemingly had a connection with his travels. On
the other hand, his travelling was related to his academic ambitions. Aspelin departed for his
first tour of Europe in 1872. Aspelin’s acquisitions are characterised by a great enthusiasm and
joy of discovery. He hopes to find interesting treasures for a low price. Some acquisitions were
in bad condition. Maybe romanticized signs of the ravages of time made the works of art
even more charming in the eyes of his contemporaries? The idea of acquiring a fresco greatly
excited Aspelin, despite the paintings bad condition. How significant it would be to bring
it to Finland, as there weren’t any frescoes in the country at the time! Aspelin’s friend, artist
Axel Gallén (1865–1931) promised to help restore the painting if needed. The interests of art
scholars and artists were often focused on the same phenomena and they would travel to the
same destinations. In Italy, mass tourism began to emerge quite early on. In the 18th century,
Mount Vesuvius was already an established destination. Still, the appeal of Italy remains.

Sensual Beauty − Jalo Sihtola

Jalo Sihtola (1882–1969) made an international career in forestry industry. That career enabled him to travel and work abroad. Sihtola made his first art acquisitions while he was working in Paris in 1907. He would return to Paris time and again. In his letters Sihtola describes his exhibition visits and items of interest in auctions. The idea of his own highquality collection of old art appears alongside his interest in 20th century art. Despite the stylistic variation, works of art collected by Sihtola share sophistication and sensitivity. The collector had many important contacts with both artists and experts. From an early phase, the thought of making the beauty of art accessible to as many people as possible was part
of the ethos of collecting. The donation of the collection made this idea reality.

From the Great Wide World − The Hjalmar Linder Collection

Hjalmar Linder (1862–1921) was among the richest people in Finland. He acquired an enormous forest property, as well as a sawmill, ironworks, and an estate in Mustio. His wealth allowed Linder to lead a colourful life while also managing his business and workers in Mustio. Travelling played a large role in Linder’s life. His library contained many travel books. In Linder’s life, various tragedies contrasted with stories of success. A political and societal statement cost him his reputation and made him a persecuted man. In the end, Linder sold his properties and moved away from Finland. Hjalmar Linder’s interest in art is closely connected with the Finnish Art Society. He consigned valuable works of art to the Society already in 1904. The works were to be added to the Society’s collections after the donor’s death. In addition to old art, Linder also collected the art of his time. He acquired an extensive collection of French posters which highlights the post-WW-I faith in future and yearning for freedom.

Elegantly Soothing − Carl von Haartman

Carl von Haartman (1819–1888) specialized as an obstetrician and became a physician for the Russian imperial family. During his studies, von Haartman travelled in Central Europe and most likely explored the art collections of the major cities. At the time, public collections were being actively established and museums were being built. Art was an important subject for discussion in cultural circles. Perhaps von Haartman’s art collecting was related to the spirit of the times – owning an art collection was expected of a member of the St. Petersburg high society. Seventeenth-century Dutch art was fashionable and fit well with the expert physician who dreamed of country life. The collection is mainly comprised of paintings attributed to 17th century Dutch artists. One portrait in the collection was attributed to
Rembrandt at the time of acquisition, but today’s information suggests a later date. Many of the landscapes were attributed to Jacob van Ruisdael. Later research has given more accurate information on the artists, with some of the paintings now attributed to his followers. Carl von Haartman bequeathed his art collection to the Finnish Art Society, on the condition that his daughter Gourly could keep the paintings until the end of her life.

Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff

Red Cellar 11.2.− 14.11.2021

Strong aesthetic preferences were the foundation of Paul Sinebrychoff’s art collecting. This is visible in his preserved correspondence. In later years, Paul Sinebrychoff’s collecting also emphasized an aspiration to create a cohesive museum collection. The acquisitions demonstrate both sides – pleasing personal tastes as well as paying attention to the canonical preferences of art collecting. The initial inspiration for collecting was likely related to the worry-free travels of the couple’s early years together and their admiration of European art collections. At that time public art collections were beginning to emerge and become more widely established. Collecting art was a way to demonstrate financial power and boost one’s social and cultural status. Paul and Fanny travelled and explored art collections together. In Paul’s correspondence the collection is portrayed as Paul’s collection. Fanny did express her wishes: sometimes she had already chosen a place for hanging a certain painting. What really was Fanny’s role? Was she a part of Paul’s collection – a beautiful, Swedish-born wife among the charming Swedish portraits? Fanny influenced particularly the acquiring of silver, porcelain, and statuettes. These items are related to furnishing and decorating the domestic setting, an area fitting for a wife. Acquisition of masterpieces and expertise in art was Paul’s role, at least based on his letters.

Swedish art from before year 1809 holds a special position in the Sinebrychoff collection. The collecting began already in the 1880s. After Paul’s mother Anna died in 1904 the couple moved to the building that today houses the Sinebrychoff museum. In rooms where guests were received and entertained, the collection was organised in matching period interiors. Imagination mingles with reality, the personal life
stays hidden. Swedish portraits were Paul’s first interest. The collection features several portraits of Queen Christina of Sweden. Full-sized portraits and a remarkable collection of miniatures depict other members of the royalty and nobility. On a trip to Stockholm in spring 1904, a set of furniture was purchased for the Gustavian-style drawing room. The Gustavian-style writing bureau with intarsia decorations was purchased in Stockholm in 1907. It most likely belonged to Sofia Albertina, sister of King Gustav III. Sketches for the bureau are also preserved.

More information:
Museum Director Kirsi Eskelinen, phone +358 (0) 294 500 490,
Curator Salla Heino, phone 050 470 8424,

Press Photos:

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Contact: Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Bulevardi 40, 00120 Helsinki, phone 0294 500 460,

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Sinebrychoff Art Museum is a part of the Finnish National Gallery, together with the Kiasma and the Ateneum Art Museum.