Gösta Serlachius’ Museum Plans

‘[…] Nor is the ‘handwriting’ of our sculptors and in the finest of our paintings unknown closer to home beyond the city. Our intention for the immediate future is to build an art museum on the shore of Koskelanlampi, the small lake adjacent to our factories.’ This is in line with a statement that Gösta Serlachius once made: ‘In our conviction, even the countryside yearns for art’, he said in a speech to members of the government, including members of Parliament, when they visited Mänttä in 1937.  

Gösta Serlachius planned to place his art collection on public display back in the 1910s. In fact, his father-in-law, G.A. Serlachius, ordered in his testament in 1898 that a fund be established whose interest would be used for purchasing textbooks for the children of employees and to maintain a reading room and a public library. Gösta Serlachius proposed creation of a foundation on the basis of this fund to construct an art museum in Mänttä. The proposal included reading rooms and a library in the spirit of the original will. That proposal was approved, and an application to establish a foundation was submitted to the Ministry of Justice in December 1933. Gösta Serlachius donated 246 works of art to the foundation.

In 1932, architect Jari Eklund completed preliminary plans for the museum. That proposal pleased Serlachius, who considered it a useful basis for future plans. However, after Eklund had worked on the museum plan for many years, the co-operation came to an end in 1940. After that, Serlachius turned to another architect, Toivo Anttila, but his hastily prepared plans were rejected, so the planning was handed over to Uno Ullberg.

Gösta Serlachius wrote to Ullberg on 25 June 1941: ‘I take the liberty of asking whether you would be interested in making the first proposal for a museum to be built in Mänttä, for paintings and other works of art. I myself am fairly certain of how various functions should be positioned […]. I turn to you because I know you have drawn up a similar plan for a museum in Vyborg.’

Gösta Serlachius’ expertise becomes obvious in a memo dated 24 May 1941, which apparently deals with a proposal that Anttila had submitted. In the memo, Serlachius pays special attention to the lighting conditions of the building and to visitors’ effortless access to the exhibition premises.

The museum’s lighting conditions had been studied back in 1937 through building of a test hall in Mänttä. Serlachius criticised the grand entrance in Anttila’s plan – blinding light dulls the ability of the eye to distinguish hues for such a long time that a visit to the museum might be a lost cause. He also thought that the entrance would be unreasonably expensive and like that of a cinema, saying: ‘People enter a museum in a different way than a cinema theatre.’

‘Carrying paintings on the narrow staircases is difficult; works will be damaged. The lift must be made more readily accessible and placed near the main entrance – this will better serve certain rooms where the hanging is changed often. And toilet facilities can be placed in the cellar, to liberate the main floor from this not-so-artistic need,’ was Serlachius’ opinion.

Ullberg’s first proposal was completed by the beginning of September 1941. By March 1942, a cost estimate for the museum had been calculated; with the total sum for the building, of 9,300 square metres, being 3,813,805 Finnish marks. The plans were available for viewing at the annual meeting of the Fine Arts Foundation, held in June. Then, on 7 July 1942, Serlachius wrote to Ullberg to say that he would take the liberty of returning this town plan draft. The letter contained a long statement of reasons for which the plan proposal was not good. This is presumably Serlachius’s last letter to Ullberg.

By 1942, the mining counsellor was an unwell man. He had his heart problems treated in Helsinki and in Sweden. In the summer of 1942, he was still able to travel to Karelia with a group of industrialists. In autumn, he went to his farm in Lövö, and he was paralysed there by October. Gösta Serlachius died on 18 October 1942.

The 1942 annual report of the Fine Arts Foundation was forced to state this: ‘Architect Uno Ullberg drew up plans for the foundation’s museum in Mänttä in the summer and spring, but since the foundation’s assets in the current circumstances are not sufficient for completion of this ambitious project and Gösta Serlachius is no longer here to contribute to the development of the plans, the foundation is regrettably forced to ask the architect to suspend his work.’

Helena Hänninen

Uno Ullberg's plan for an art museum onto Koskelanlampi Pond from 1942, facade to North.
Uno Ullberg's design for an art museum onto Koskelanlampi Pond from 1942, facade to North.
Uno Ullberg’s design for an art museum onto Koskelanlampi Pond from 1942, facade to North.