Gösta Michael Serlachius (1876–1942)

Gösta Serlachius was one of the leading Finnish entrepreneurs of the first half of the 20th century, an important figure in politics and military affairs, and a connoisseur of the arts whose collections are now displayed in one of the country’s principal galleries.

He was born in Pietarsaari, the son of a brewery owner, and studied at a Swedish-speaking school and at the University of Helsinki. In 1898 he joined the forest products company established by his uncle, G A Serlachius (1830-1901) at Mantta, 90 km north-east of Tampere. He became a director when the business was transformed into a joint stock company in 1902, and subsequently studied paper-making technology in Vienna and in the United States, where he became acquainted with new thinking about occupational safety and the provision of health facilities for industrial workers. On his return to Finland he managed a paper mill at Kangas in 1904-08, was managing director of the Kymmene forest products company in 1908-13, and was managing director of its parent company, G A Serlachius AB from 1913 until his death in 1942. He had great managerial talents and developed the company into one of the principal manufacturers of forest products in Finland, as well as playing a leading role in the establishment of national organisations representing the interests of the industry.

He was active in the White Army during the Finnish Civil War of 1918, and was sent to Britain in 1939 to seek assistance for Finland after the invasion by the army of the USSR.

He did much to make Mantta into a model industrial community after it became an independent municipality in 1922, encouraging the building of a maternity hospital, and commissioning the building of the town’s church which is notable for sculpture by Hannes Autere, glass paintings by Alvar Cawn and a window by Eric Ehrstrom.

He began to collect paintings in 1898, and as early as 1919 presented 86 items from his collection to the Ateneum museum in Helsinki. The development of the Gosta Serlachius Museum of Fine Arts was encouraged by his son R Erik Serlachius (1901-80). The museum was opened in 1945 at the family home, Joenniemi Manor, which passed into the ownership of the Gosta Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation in 1972. A full-time curator was appointed in 1973, and the museum now attracts up to 30,000 visitors a year.

The company passed through a succession of mergers in the late 20th century and is now part of the Metsa-Serla group. The White House in Mantta, its headquarters building of 1934, now houses the G A Serlachius Museum that interprets the process of industrialisation in Finland from the 1850s until the present.