Sara Hildén’s legacy

It is my hope to promote visual art and its recognition and public enjoyment by preserving the works of art in my possession as an intact collection for the benefit of posterity and by ensuring the collection’s future upkeep and continued expansion…

Sara Hildén Foundation’s deed of foundation, 1962

Sara Hildén’s legacy lives on in the tangible form of the Sara Hildén Foundation Collection and also intangibly in the high standards of excellence that she observed both as a collector and businesswoman. She was generous in her support of art and many artists and valued the advice of her artist friends when selecting new works for her collection.  

The artistic content of the Sara Hildén Museum’s collection expresses the modernist philosophy of art for art’s sake – that art has inherent aesthetic value. Art should be judged purely on its own merits, independent of external validations. To this day, aesthetic merit remains a high priority both in the museums’ acquisitions policy and collection-based exhibitions. 

Watch the short documentary 10 Facts about Sara Hildén below!

10 FACTS ABOUT SARA HILDÈN (2013) 17 min
Direction and screenplay: Pia Andell
Production: OF COURSE MY FILMS/Pia Andell 2013
Cinematography: Pekka Uotila, editing: Antony Bentley, sound design: Kirsi Korhonen, composer: Timo Hietala, graphic design: Helena Syrjä

There were many Saras. Strong-willed, short-tempered, and demanding. I could say "hard", but it's not really true…. ..especially as I personally found her very friendly. She delt with things like a man. Although she was feared, I still found her very generous. 10 FACTS ABOUT SARA HILDÉN 1. Born 16 August 1905. Named Saara Ester Hilden. TIMO VUORIKOSKI museum director emeritus Her family were crofters from Lempäälä near Tampere. She knew little about her father, and her mother died early on. She was brought up by her maternal grandfather. MAILA-KATRIINA TUOMINEN cultural journalist Her family was poor with no cultural background,… ..only that of people who know something about nature and life. Quite early on she had to go out and fend for herself. She didn't go to any proper school. Two years' rudamentary education at an ambulatory school. But from a very early age she did all kinds of jobs. She was a bus conductress, a clothes shop assistant,… ..and in summer she would go off to Vyborg to sell tickets in a circus. There she met people who thought that literature made sense… ..and that it offered an entry into almost all the other arts. Sara was very active in theatrical life,… ..and she held various positions of trust in the theatre. She wanted to surrounded herself with people of culture… ..and she held receptions for writers, artists and theatre people. She offered good food and drink and lively conversation. 2. Met the artist Erik Enroth in 1945. Marriage in 1949. Enroth and Sara met in Tampere at a party given by friends. She was relatively old, over 40. He was 13 years younger. Enroth had a strong character, and he was very macho. The energy and fury in his life and art clearly appealed to Sara. Two extremely strong and intractable persons met,… ..and a spark was ignited between them. 3. In 1952 established a ladies outfitters business. RITA GRÖNBLAD-VOUTILAINEN Neighbour Sara said, I've made money for others long enough,… I'm going to make my own fortune. The time was just right. LYYLI OLLIKAINEN cousin, employee After the war, people had almost no clothes. MAIJA TOMMINEN employee There were few shops: so if you got hold of some goods, they sold. AIRA SAMULIN factory office clerk The train from Tampere got into Helsinki at 4 in the morning. And when the factory opened at 7 Sara was on the steps waiting. She just went and took others' goods. Nobody could stop her. She even took unfinished goods back to Tampere with her. She was so incredibly energetic. HELVI LEHTONEN colleague, friend Many then went short of things. She didn't. TOINI JAAKKOLA neighbour Sara said, "You don't come to buy from us. We sell to you." And sometimes the customers were sold things they didn't want. EEVA LITMANEN employee A customer who wasn't firm went out with a coat if it was Sara selling. Sara did good business with her firm. Really. She knew what to buy, too. Who else could have succeeded as well as Sara Hildén did? Because she had such skill and toughness and drive. 4. Paid for Enroth's work and upkeep and got his pictures in return. Erik worked very intensively in the 50s, and Sara drove him on. And he produced a lot of art. VEIKKO SERKO family friend Erik knew all the time just what he was doing. It was all ready in his head, I think, when he started to paint. Sara admired his art immensely. And so she wanted to get all his works for herself. He had masses of paintings, one big room full of his works. On a visit there I once noticed behind each picture the words: "Painted by Erik Enroth. Owned by Sara Hildén" 5. Enroth's heavy drinking cast a shade over the marriage Although Erik worked hard, there were always came a bad day when… ..he would get drunker in one hour than most persons do in their lives. Sara tried desperately to curb his drinking and look after him. Erik was fully conscious that he was an alcoholic. Totally aware of it. He admitted it openly. And he was distressed that he couldn't kick the habit. 6. Divorce in 1962. Founded the Sara Hildén Foundation. I suppose Erik felt that he wasn't just her court painter,… ..that he was his own master. That's what I think. It meant in a way the end of the world for Sara. ILKKA SYRJÄNEN, Sara Hildén Foundation's lawyer Sara Hildén and Erik Enroth had made a marital agreement… ..that gave her ownership of over 300 of his works. These included about 150 unfinished works. They were unsigned, or had something else missing. According to the agreement, Sara Hildén also had the right… transfer ownership of them to her new foundation. The divorce had dealt her a crushing blow,… ..and she had to find something worthwhile to compensate for it. 7. Advised by Finnish experts, began collecting foreign modern art. E.J. Vehmas, Assistant Curator of the Ateneum suggested … ..that she might find fulfilment in some activity that would… ..dispel her desperate thoughts. I think she felt an even stronger need to fall in love with art.. ..- other art than Erik Enroth's. I was at a trade fair with Sara in Paris. The whole textile field was there, and everybody was talking about Sara buying a Picasso. KAUKO LEHTINEN artist friend We bought a Picasso paper cutting, from 1911 or '12. It's the only Picasso in her collection. It was then still incredibly cheap, and Sara bought it immediately. It cost about a million or so, I suppose. Then a Tampere business woman could still afford to buy… ..such a work.It wouldn't be possible today any more. 8. Bought a lot of Finnish modern art and supported the artists in several ways. Sara discovered the young Finnish talents of the 60s. They were called "Sara's boys". She bought a lot of their works. KARI JYLHÄ sculptor There were about 15 artists in her circle at that time. The photo shows them well: Sara and "Sara's boys". She loaned money to many. Never to me, but to many others. She might ask someone: "Are you short of money?" ARVO SIIKÄMÄKI sculptor Many times I called Sara Hilden when I was really hard up,… ..and she listened asked for my account number and sent money every time. Amazingly, she never asked what the money was for,… ..or couldn't I manage with less. I always got what I asked for. LAILA PULLINEN sculptor Artists didn't accept her because she was a rich collector,… ..but because she was a collector who understood their work. 9. 1971-1976 a legal battle over copyright between Enroth and the Foundation In 1971 Erik Enroth filed a suit against the foundation… ..accusing it of not granting him access to his works… ..or the right to photograph them or to complete unfinished works. He also sought borrowing rights to his works for other exhibitions. All artists thought it was obvious that there must be right of access. Erik Enroth died in April 1975 before the case was settled. The Supreme Court finally delivered its verdict in 1976. The verdict upheld the artist's right of access to his works. This has since been recognized,… ..and right of access was inscribed in the Copyright Act of 1995. 10. The City of Tampere built the Sara Hildén Art Museum. It opened in 1979. PEKKA PAAVOLA City Mayor 1969-1985 All we laymen thought the museum should be built near the centre. But Sara had her own ideas. She wanted it to be built beside Särkänniemi Adventure Park. Sara thought she was doing something important with her art collection. I find it wonderful when some- one gives everything to society. TAPIO LEPONIEMI museum attendant She could sit for hours beside the front door. She scrutinized the visitors coming into the museum… ..and enjoyed the fact that no-one recognized her. And then she would indicate, or her carer would announce… ..that Madam is coming inside to look at the works. I can see her in the main hall peering at a work very close up. I see her profile, her white hair, her slightly stooped figure. And clearly she's looking at the work. It could be any work. And she nods quietly to herself. I remember watching her like Anaïs Nin's Spy in the House of Love… ..and thinking, "She knows what she has accomplished,… ..and no-one can dispute it." Sara Hildén died 7 October 1993. Skip video embed