Through the years, the Art Room has fostered many important artists who have gone on to pursue artistic studies and careers. The University’s art instructors have included Magnus von Wright, Adolf von Becker, Eero Järnefelt and Åke Hellman.
Art instruction has a long history at the University of Helsinki dating back to the University’s earliest years. From the 17th and 18th centuries onwards, European universities employed practice masters to teach various practical skills. At the time, academic education was supplemented with training in fencing, riding, music, dance and drawing.
The University, known at the time as the Royal Academy of Turku, employed its first drawing master in 1708 with the appointment of Johan Oppenort, a painter from Stockholm. However, when drawing instruction actually began is open to interpretation, for the tradition of drawing commenced at the Academy as early as the 17th century with the employment of engravers. The post of drawing master was permanently established in the 1830s after the Academy (renamed the Imperial Alexander University) relocated to Helsinki. The Art Room was located on Fabianinkatu in an annex to the University’s new Main Building designed by Carl Ludvig Engel. In 1870 the Art Room moved to the new Arppeanum building on Senate Square. The teacher at the time was Adolf von Becker, who had been trained in Paris.
Von Becker represented a modern understanding of art, and his teaching was based on models from other countries. His numerous students included Albert Edelfelt, who took classes at the Art Room while studying at the Faculty of Arts. Von Becker also established his private academy in the Art Room facilities. Female students were welcome to study there if they paid the tuition fee. Von Becker’s private students included Helene Schjerfbeck and Maria Wiik.
Many important Finnish artists have taught at the Art Room: not only Adolf von Becker, but also his predecessor Magnus von Wright. Notable teachers in the 1900s included Eero Järnefelt, Väinö Blomstedt, Erkki Kulovesi, Åke Hellman and Pertti Summa.