He was born Axél Waldemar Gallén in Pori[?], Finland. His father Peter Gallén worked as police chief and laywer. At the age of 11 he was sent to Helsinki to study at a grammar school. He also attended drawing classes at the Finnish Art Society.
In 1884 he moved to Paris, to study at the Académie Julian. In Paris he became friends with the Finnish painter Albert Edelfelt, the Norwegian painter Adam Dörnberger[?], and the Swedish writer August Strindberg.
In 1890 he married Mary Slöör. The couple had three children, Impi Marjatta, Kirsti and Jorma[?]. On their honeymoon to Karelia, Galle-Kallela started collecting material for his depictions of the Kalevala.
He officially changed his name to the more finnish sounding Akseli Gallen-Kallela in 1907.