History of the Art Museum of Estonia

The Art Museum of Estonia was established on the 17th of November 1919. Before the completion of Kumu, the museum operated in many different spaces. For the longest period, the museum was located in the Kadriorg Palace – the palace was given to the museum in 1921, but expropriated in 1929, when it was redesigned to serve as an official government building. The museum’s temporary building burned down as a result of the bombing on the 9th of March 1944. Three thousand valuable exhibits, along with the library, archive and stock, were also destroyed. The 10,000 works of art that were evacuated to the countryside and to other buildings by the museum employees did not suffer any harm.

In the 1930s, the construction of a building for the art museum on a lot between Mere Blvd. and Aia Street was on the agenda. An international architectural competition was organised in 1936, which was won by the Estonian architects Edgar Johan Kuusik and Erich Jacoby; the famous Finnish architect Alvar Aalto came in second. However, World War II started and the building was not built.

In 1946, the museum’s collections were again concentrated in the Kadriorg Palace and the museum operated there until 1991. Then, due to the poor condition of the building, the doors had to be closed to the public and, in 1992, the museum had to move out again. More acutely than ever before, the need to construct a building for the museum became obvious. A search for possible locations was initiated. From among eleven possible locations in different areas of Tallinn, the Lasnamäe slope at the end of Weizenberg Street in Kadriorg was chosen. In the meanwhile, the museum was given the Rüütelkonna (Knighthood) Building on Toompea Hill in Tallinn as their temporary home, where exhibitions began on the 1th of April 1993. The Art Museum of Estonia discontinued its exhibition activities in that building in October 2005.

Meanwhile, the museum’s activities had expanded in the form of branches: the Museum of Applied Arts was opened in 1980 (which became an altogether separate museum – the Estonian Museum of Applied Art and Design – in 2004), the Adamson-Eric Museum in 1983, the Kristjan Raud Museum in 1984 (closed in 2008) and the Niguliste Museum in 1984. In 1996, an exhibition hall was opened on the first floor of the Rotermann Salt Storage, which discontinued its activities in May 2005. In the summer of 2000, the restored Kadriorg Palace was reopened, no longer as the museum’s headquarters, but as a branch – the Kadriorg Art Museum – where the Art Museum of Estonia’s collection of foreign art is displayed. In February 2006, the Kumu Art Museum – the new headquarters of the Art Museum of Estonia – was opened.

Today, the Art Museum of Estonia is an institution with five museums: the Kumu Art Museum, Kadriorg Art Museum, Mikkel Museum, Niguliste Museum, and Adamson-Eric Museum.