Great Finnish literary figures include Elias Lönnrot (1802–84), compiler of the national epic, the Kalevala; Johan Ludwig Runeberg (1804–77), the most important of the 19th-century Finnish-Swedish writers, known for his Elk Hunters and Songs of Ensign Stål; Aleksis Kivi (1834–72), the founder of modern Finnish-language literature and author of The Seven Brothers; Juhani Aho (1861–1921), master of Finnish prose; Eino Leino (1878–1926), perhaps the greatest lyric poet to write in Finnish; Frans Eemil Sillanpää (1888–1964), a Nobel Prize winner (1939), known to English-language audiences through his Meek Heritage and The Maid Silja; Toivo Pekkanen (1902–57), whose novels portray the impact of industrialization on Finnish life; Mika Waltari (1908–79), member of the Finnish Academy; Väinö Linna (1920–92), a Scandinavian Literature Prize winner (1963) and author of The Unknown Soldier (1954); and the antiwar novelist and playwright Veijo Meri (b.1928).
Finnish architects who are well known abroad include Eliel Saarinen (1873–1950) and his son Eero Saarinen (1910–61), whose career was chiefly in the US; Alvar Aalto (1898–1976); Viljo Revell (1910–64); and Aarne Ervi (1910–77). A leading sculptor was Wäinö Aaltonen (1894–1966); others well known are Eila Hiltunen (b.1922) and Laila Pullinen (b.1933). Five representative painters are Helena Schjerfbeck (1852–1946), Albert Edelfelt (1854–1905), Akseli Gallen-Kalléla (1865–1931), Pekka Halonen (1865–1933), and Tyko Sallinen (1879–1955). Arts and crafts hold an important place in Finnish culture: leading figures are Tapio Wirkkala (1915–85) and Timo Sarpaneva (b.1926). Finnish music has been dominated by Jean Sibelius (1865–1957). Also notable are the composer of art songs Yrjö Kilpinen (1892–1957), the composer of operas and symphonies Aulis Sallinen (b.1935), and opera and concert bass Martti Talvela (1935–89).
Scientists of international repute are A. I. Wirtanen (1895–1973), Nobel Prize winner for chemistry in 1945; Rolf Nevanlinna (1895–1980), mathematician; Pentti Eskola (1883–1964), geologist; V. A. Heiskanen (1895–1971), professor of geodesy; Aimo Kaarlo Cajander (1879–1943), botanist and silviculturist; Edward Westermarck (1862–1939), ethnographer and sociologist; and Yrjö Väisälä (1891–1971), astronomer.
Outstanding athletes include Hannes Kolehmainen (1890–1966) and Paavo Nurmi (1897–1973), who between them won 14 Olympic medals in track. Another distance runner, Lasse Viren (b.1949), won gold medals in both the 1972 and 1976 games.
Major political figures of the 19th century were Johan Wilhelm Snellman (1806–81) and Yrjö Sakari Yrjö-Koskinen (1830–1903). Inseparably linked with the history of independent Finland is Marshal Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim (1867–1951), and with the recent postwar period President Juho Kusti Paasikivi (1870–1956). Sakari Tuomioja (1911–64) was prominent in UN affairs. President Urho Kekkonen (1900–86) was instrumental in preserving Finland's neutrality. Mauno Henrik Koivisto (b.1923) served as president from 1982 until 1994.