Photo: Signe Brander / Helsinki City Museum.

The story of the museum

The Sinebrychoff Art Museum operates on Bulevardi street in Helsinki in a building that once belonged to the Sinebrychoff family. The heart of the museum is Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff’s collection of art and objects, which was transferred to the Finnish state as a gift in 1921.

The museum building

The Sinebrychoff Art Museum is located on Bulevardi, on the edge of a large park. The building, which served as the home of the Sinebrychoff family and a brewery office, was completed in 1842.

The first floor of the building was originally designated as brewery office space and servants’ accommodation, while the second floor was used as the Sinebrychoffs’ living and entertainment space. The brewery office space was located in the north-east corner of the building, and the office entrance was directly from the street. The kitchen and the servants’ hall were in the building’s south-east corner. The staircase at the west end led to the living quarters, with the rooms facing the street reserved for entertainment, and the rooms facing the park for the private use of the family.

The building was decorated with precious ceiling paintings, stucco surfaces and French wallpaper. The building had a bathroom and an indoor toilet, which were modern features in Helsinki housing at the time. The building had basement storage spaces and an office, and it was close to a production facility, which were all signs of a bourgeois way of life. The design also included spaces for entertainment. The garden and the park next to the building were for public use.

From brewery office to art museum

One of the most significant private houses in Helsinki, the building opened as a house museum on 27 November 1921. Featuring charming period interiors filled with objects, its three front rooms were essentially in the same condition as Fanny Sinebrychoff had left them. The museum operated in this form until 1939, when it had to close due to the outbreak of the Winter War. The museum collection was evacuated to safety. The building, located at Bulevardi 40, was damaged in the bombings, and after the war, it was leased to the Helsinki University of Technology’s chemistry laboratory.

In 1959, the Sinebrychoff company decided to restore the rooms of the building for museum use again, in honour of the brewery’s 140th anniversary. The grand re-opening took place on 22 January in 1960. In 1975, the state bought the entire building from the brewery. Between 1978 and 1980, the building underwent a major overhaul to restore it for museum use. In 1980, the Ateneum Art Museum’s collection of old European art was transferred to the museum, to accompany Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff’s collection of art.

Former glory restored

Another major overhaul, completed in 2002, sought solutions to conserve and restore the building. The starting point for the exhibition of works of art and objects was the black-and-white photographs of the Sinebrychoffs’ home taken by the photographer Signe Brander in 1912. The original appearance of the four rooms on the second floor facing Bulevardi was restored, as far as possible. The art collection, objects and furniture were put back in their original places. The choice of surface materials and paints for the interior was to reflect the 1910s look of the rooms as closely as possible.

The renovated museum was opened to the public in February 2003.

The Sinebrychoff brewing family

The Sinebrychoff family in Helsinki comes from the market town of Gavrilov Posad, in the Vladimir governorate, northeast of Moscow. Peter was the first Sinebrychoff to settle in Finland, and in the late 18th century, he worked as a merchant in the Kymenlaakso region, which had been ceded to Russia. Peter Sinebrychoff, who died in 1805, is known to have had at least nine descendants: six sons and three daughters. Of the sons, Nikolai and Paul continued in business in Finland.

Nikolai Sinebrychoff

Nikolai Sinebrychoff (1786‒1848) moved his business to the Viapori fortress outside Helsinki in 1817. He soon became a supplier to the large Russian garrison stationed in the fortress, doing construction work as a sideline. The business also expanded to other areas: in the same year, he acquired exclusive rights to distil alcohol for an initial period of five years, which was later extended until 1853. In 1819, he was granted similar exclusive rights to brew beer.

Nikolai Sinebrychoff built a grand house in a large garden next to his brewery and distillery in the Hietalahti district, which at the time was still a suburb of Helsinki. He lived in his modest Suomenlinna flat as a bachelor, and never moved to his town house, which was completed in 1842. Nikolai died childless in 1848.

Paul Sinebrychoff the Elder

Nikolai’s younger brother, Paul Sinebrychoff (1799‒1883), who lived alone on the second floor of the house built by his big brother, inherited a profitable business. He was taken care of by housekeepers, who changed frequently. In 1847, this position was filled by a woman called Tichanoff, née Sandström, a captain’s widow from Turku, who brought her 16-year-old daughter Anna with her.

Paul took a fancy to young Anna (1830‒1904), and the wedding of the 50-year-old Paul and his 19-year-old bride was celebrated in 1850. The couple’s four children were born in the 1850s: first was Maria in 1852, then Anna in 1854, the first son Nicolas in 1856, and finally, Paul, who was named after his father, in 1859.

Paul Sinebrychoff the Elder turned the family business into a large corporation, which was a significant player in all key areas of Finnish business life. Although he no longer had exclusive rights to distil alcohol or brew beer, he managed to keep the brewery as the cornerstone of the company. After the death of Paul Sinebrychoff the Elder in 1883, his widow Anna successfully looked after her husband’s legacy until her death in 1904.

Nicolas Sinebrychoff and Paul Sinebrychoff the Younger

Paul Sinebrychoff the Younger was not originally meant to succeed his father at the helm of the company. This position fell to his older brother Nicolas when, in 1878, he was made the CEO of the company. Nicolas Sinebrychoff (1856‒1896) was a sociable and obliging person, as well as an avid outdoor enthusiast, who enjoyed hunting and sailing, among other things. However, he proved to be a mediocre businessman and thus had to hand over his duties to his little brother Paul.

Paul Sinebrychoff (1859–1917), with support from his mother, took charge of the company and its development at the age of 29, proving to be a competent director. Like his father, he invested the company’s assets in various shares and bonds. At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Sinebrychoff family was, for example, the largest owner of Yhdyspankki (the Union Bank of Finland). In 1888, the company became a limited company. When Paul Sinebrychoff the Younger died childless in 1917, the brewery passed on to the ownership of Paul’s sister’s family. Today, the brewery is owned by the Danish company Carlsberg.

Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff

When Paul Sinebrychoff the Younger married the actress Fanny Grahn (1862‒1921) in October 1883, he did not yet have responsibility for the family business. The young couple had time to travel abroad and explore art treasures.

”We loved art from when we were young. When we travelled abroad in the 1880s after we had got married, we never missed an opportunity to visit an art gallery. Seeing the abundance of beautiful and uplifting artworks that the galleries could offer viewers ignited in us a burning desire to give the citizens of our distant homeland an opportunity to participate in it as well. That’s when we made the decision to start collecting valuable works of art for our own home, which – if they were one day to grow into a collection – we could perhaps donate to the Finnish state.”

Fanny Sinebrychoff, Suomen Kuvalehti magazine 1921

The Sinebrychoffs started collecting art in the 1890s. In 1921, as a result of nearly thirty years of collecting, Fanny Sinebrychoff donated a collection of approximately 900 works to the Finnish state at the joint request of the couple. The collection is housed in its original location at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum at Bulevardi 40 in Helsinki, where the home of Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff has been given a new lease of life after many decades.