Go Back

University Drawing School

University Drawing School

1678: A special engraver is recruited to illustrate publications
1707: Instruction in drawing begins
1708: The first master draughtsman is employed
1824: The School moves with the University to Helsinki
1834: A separate drawing studio is situated in a university building on Fabianinkatu
1845: The School hosts Finland’s first art exhibition
1850s: The School is forced to relinquish its teaching room, space given
in the cloakroom of the University Main Building banquet hall
1880: The School Moves to the House of Nobility
1897: The School moves back to enlarged premises on Fabianinkatu
1935–37: The School moves to the Headquarters of the Finnish Literature Society during the enlargement of the University Main Building
1956: The School moves to the top floor of Porthania
1992: The School becomes part of the Faculty of Arts

Photo: Mika Federley
Written by Tomas Sjöblom
Translated by Matthew Billington

Magnus von Wright – the Finnish Art Society and cultural landscapes

13.6.1805, Kuopio – 5.7.1868, Helsinki

Magnus von Wright, born on June 13, 1805 at the Haminanlahti estate in Kuopio, was the oldest of three artist brothers. His interest in science was sparked at an early age when he hunted birds with his father and brothers in the surrounding forests.

The young man first studied at the Turku Gymnasium from 1823–25, until he was accepted as a student at the Royal Academy of Arts in Stockholm. Von Wright studied there until 1829, while simultaneously attending a private drawing school, and then returned to Finland. His biggest artistic inspiration is said to have stemmed from discovering Carl Johan Billmark’s lithographical work, which began his interest in landscapes.

While residing in Sweden, the young von Wright also began to produce ornithological illustration work. The end result was a catalogue of birds co-published with his brother Wilhelm called Svenska foglar efter naturen och på sten ritade (1828-1838). The work was commissioned by Count Nils Bonde, who was fascinated by ornithology.

Black woodpecker drawn by Magnus von Wright in the work "Svenska foglar".

In 1831, on his return to Finland, von Wright moved to Helsinki and was one of the few artists residing in the young capital over the following twenty years. At first he made his living as a cartographer and land surveyor. Von Wright escaped the poor working environment of the land surveying office when he found a job as the conservator and supervisor of the zoological collections of the University in 1845. He excelled at his work, conducting a large-scale reorganisation and mapping the collections.

In 1849 von Wright was appointed teacher at the University Drawing School. He had, however, already been performing this task since 1847 as Pehr Adolf Kruskopf’s substitute. After his appointment, von Wright was able to concentrate more on his artistic work. In addition to teaching, he also drew and painted coats of arms, scientific illustrations as well as estates and cultural landscapes, for which he is perhaps best known in addition to his bird themes. Von Wright also gave private instruction in drawing and painting to children of the wealthy.

Von Wright did not only illustrate his own publications. Among other work, he participated, with sixteen lithographical pieces, in the illustration of Zacharias Topelius’ famous book on the Finns and their history, Finland framstäldt i teckningar (1845–1852). In ornithology, illustration and painting were not enough for von Wright, and he also wrote the book Finlands foglor, hufvudsakligen till deras drägter, beskrifna on species of Finnish birds.

The Sääksmäki church drawn by von Wright, in Zacharias Topelius’ work "Finland framstäldt i teckningar".

Magnus von Wright played a central part in the development of Finnish visual art in the mid-1800s. He was one of the most influential figures in the founding of the Finnish Art Society, and would remain both the only board member to be an artist and the head teacher of the University School of Drawing until his death. Magnus von Wright is known particularly as the era’s best visual recorder of the four seasons of Helsinki and its buildings.

Magnus von Wright. Photo source: Wikimedia Commons.

References and additional information

  • Jukka Ervamaa, Wright, Magnus von, National biography online publication. Accessed June 26 2015. Available for free via Nelli
  • Helena Hätönen, Magnus von Wright, Finnish National Gallery online publication. Accessed June 26 2015.
  • Helena Hätönen, Suomen Taideyhdistyksen perustaminen, Finnish National Gallery online publication. Accessed June 26 2015.
  • Magnus von Wright, Wikipedia online publication. Accessed June 26 2015.
Go Back