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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

The University Drawing School – Finland’s first public art school

European academic tradition has included many different forms of art. In addition to music, drawing and painting formed an essential part of the skills of every member of the intelligentsia in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Finnish academic drawing tradition began at the Royal Academy of Turku in 1678, when the engraver and printer Daniel Medelplan was hired by the academic press as an image editor with the pay of two barrels of wheat per year.

The office of master draughtsman was founded a little less than thirty years later. The first master draughtsman to be appointed was Johan Oppenort, whose tasks no longer included wood engravings for the press. In addition to teaching, the master draughtsman crafted and painted decorations, wallpaper and portraits for the university. In the early years, the pay most often consisted of small fees from students.

When the university moved to Helsinki in 1828, drawing instruction moved with it and it settled in one of the university’s satellite buildings on Fabianinkatu, which was completed in 1834. The University Drawing School began to acquire works of art and plaster casts as models and examples for students. The cast collection of the university was started in the 1830s, when Pehr Adolf Kruskopf purchased the first pieces. Those nine replica sculptures were on show at Finland’s first art exhibition, which was organised at the Drawing School in the autumn of 1845.

The production of casts is still an important part of the activities of the Drawing School. Photo: Mika Federley.

The University Drawing School was the only public Finnish educational institution to give instruction in fine arts until 1848, when the drawing school of the Finnish Art Society was founded. At the turn of the 20th century, most well-known known Finnish artists had still either studied or taught at the University Drawing School. The institution was all the more significant since drawing instruction in Finnish schools was often insufficient or even non-existent.

The primary task of the Drawing School has not always been art instruction in the modern sense of the word. After a declaration from Tsar Alexander III in 1892, it was ruled that art instruction should contain “both the development of design and, especially, achievement of proficiency in freehand drawing.” It was considered that these skills would be useful to future architects and archaeologists. The idea was to learn to draw objects quickly and accurately.

The Drawing School has been located on the seventh floor of the Porthania building since 1956, and activities are organised three times a week. Studies begin by drawing plaster models, and as the students progress they move on to drawing and painting live models.

The Drawing School has been in Porthania since 1956. Photo: Mika Federley.

References and additional information

  • Kaarina Pöykkö, ”Helsingin yliopiston Piirustuslaitoksen historiaa kolmelta vuosisadalta”, in the work Helsingin yliopiston Piirustuslaitos 300 vuotta. Juhlanäyttely yliopiston päärakennuksessa (Unioninkatu 34) 5.5.–14.5.1978, Helsinki 1978.
  • University Drawing School website. Accessed June 26 2015.
  • Helena Hätönen, Kotmaisen taideopetuksen varhaisvaiheita, National biography online publication. Accessed June 26 2015.
  • Taidekokoelman syntyhistoriaa, Helsinki university museum online publication. Accessed June 26 2015.
  • Raija Oikari, ”Sulka yliopiston hatussa”, Humanistilehti 9/2007. Accessed August 20 2015.
  • Helsingin yliopiston Piirustuslaitos, Wikipedia online publication. Accessed June 26 2015.
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