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The Foundation

ARS FENNICA art foundation

The Henna and Pertti Niemistö Art Foundation – ARS FENNICA sr was established in 1990 to promote the visual arts by opening up new channels for Finnish visual art internationally, by providing artists with inspiration in their creative work, and by encouraging interest in and respect for the visual arts among the general public.

In alternate years, the Foundation awards Finland’s most significant visual-art prize – 50,000 euros. The prize goes to an artist in recognition of individual artistic work of outstanding quality.

An award panel appointed by the Foundation nominates the candidates and also an international art expert, who then chooses the prize winner from among these candidates. The nominees have variously been from Finland, the Nordic countries, the Baltic States and the St Petersburg region.

Ars Fennica


Soon ARS FENNICA Foundation will soon celebrate its 30th anniversary. During the years, exhibitions have been organized around Finland (eg Kiasma, Amos Rex, Hämeenlinna Art Museum) and abroad (eg New York, St. Petersburg, Tallinn). From 1991 to 2001, the Ars Fennica exhibition introduced the winner; since 2002, all candidates have participated in the exhibition.

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Prize €
Candidates 1991-2023
Prize Winners
The proportion of Finnish artists of all awarded
Finnish artists 71%


For the love of art

The founders

Henna and Pertti niemistö

Henna Niemistö, Master of Political Sciences, (1933-2004) was born in Vyborg. Her father, the businessman and industrialist Hannes Seppälä (1891–1942), founded the potato starch processor Hämeen Peruna Oy in 1933. In that same year, a new potato-flour factory was completed in Vanaja municipality and the family moved to Hämeenlinna. Hämeen Peruna prospered and over the subsequent decades was affiliated with numerous starch-sector businesses. In 1959–1984, Henna Niemistö was Hämeen Peruna’s Planning Director and Chair of the Board, and was on the Boards of several subsidiaries.

Henna married in 1959 lawyer trained on the bench Pertti Niemistö (1931–1999). Pertti Niemistö had been a lawyer and board secretary at Suomen Vakuutusyhtiöiden Keskusliitto (Finnish Central Organization for Insurance Companies) and a long-standing member of the board of Suomalainen Lakimiesyhdistys (Finnish association of lawyers). After his marriage, in 1961, he became Managing Director of Hämeen Peruna Oy and its subsidiaries. Under Pertti Niemistö’s leadership Hämeen Peruna grew to be Finland’s biggest processor of potato starch. In 1984, the company came under the ownership of Raisio.

In 1979, Hämeen Peruna bought the compass manufacturer Suunto Oy, which was brought under the direct ownership of the Niemistös in 1984, with Pertti Niemistö becoming Suunto’s CEO. The company embarked on expansion and became affiliated with several instrument, plastic and electronics-sector companies. Under the Niemistös’ management Suunto’s compasses gained a global reputation. The family sold Suunto in 1993 to the Kansallispankki banks’ investment company.

In recognition of the significant development and internationalization of both the starch industry and the instrument and electronics sector, Pertti Niemistö was awarded the honorary title of kauppaneuvos in 1981 and made a Commander of the Order of the Lion of Finland in 1992. Henna Niemistö was made a Knight, First Class, of the Order of the Lion of Finland in 1993 and a Commander of the Order of the Lion of Finland in 2001.

interest in arts

Niemistö - collection

Aurora Reinhard: Martyr (2018)

Besides their successes in business life the Niemistös shared an interest in the visual arts, which led to their beginning to collect art in the 1960s. The most active period of collecting was at the turn of the 1970s and 80s. The couple said in an interview in 1993 that the Collection has gradually sent out offshoots guided by personal predilections.

The Collection includes numerous paintings from the Finnish Golden Age, along with works by notable modernists, Russian avant-gardists, classic concretists and informalists. Most of the acquisitions have, however, focused on the art of their own time. A distinctive feature of the Collection is that sculpture is strongly represented. In 1995, a large part of the Collection was deposited with Hämeenlinna Art Museum, where it is displayed in exhibitions. The Niemistö Collection, which is still being expanded, is one of Finland’s most important collections of contemporary art.


Ars fennica 1990-

We began planning a prize, because literature had its Finlandia and Runeberg, and music had numerous awards, but visual art had virtually nothing,” Pertti Niemistö said in an interview in 1991. To create a financial basis for the Award, the Henna and Pertti Niemistö Ars Fennica Art Foundation sr. was set up in 1990. The Niemistös personally donated the Foundation’s core capital, and the Foundation has used the revenue from this to award Finland’s biggest visual art prize. The Award is accompanied by an exhibition tour and catalogue by the winner, and in recent years by all the candidates.

The main aim of the Award has been to create a natural link between Finnish art and the international art scene. The candidates have usually been artists from the Nordic countries, Baltic States and St Petersburg. From the start, the decision on the Award winner has been made by an international expert and, in some years, the exhibition tour has extended beyond the borders of Finland. In future, the Foundation is aiming to strengthen Nordic cooperation.

In 1996, the Friends of the Museum of Contemporary Art gave the first Vuoden nykytaiteen ystävä (friend of contemporary art of the year) award to Henna and Pertti Niemistö, and The Association of Finnish Sculptors awarded them the Pro Sculptura medal for outstanding contributions to the promotion of Finnish sculpture.


Read more on this year's candidates.


See all Awarded Artists.


Download our catalogues.