The building was built on the Southside of the railway square in 1887 as a centre for art and applied arts education. The following year a few rooms in the building were freed for the public display of the Finnish Art Society’s collection.
For decades, Ateneum was not seen as a museum; it only acquired the status of an “art museum” in 1958. The University of Industrial Arts and Design and the Visual Arts Academy were still operating on the premises in the 70s.
It was only in 1991 that the entire building was converted into an exhibition space. Finland was the last of the Nordic countries to dedicate an entire building to a national gallery.
According to art historians, Ateneum has had an immense influence on the Finnish art world.