Monday, 26 April 2021

Helene Schjerfbeck - part 1


Helene Schjerfbeck (1862–1946) is a Finnish national icon. Talented and widely travelled, Schjerfbeck found artistic success at a young age. In the 1880s she connected with artists’ colonies in Pont Aven, Brittany and St. Ives, Cornwall. In her later years, she left the Finnish capital for a quieter life that allowed her to concentrate on her work. Nonetheless, keeping in touch with artist friends and the seismic shifts in modern art, she produced some of her most raw and radically abstracted paintings in these years.

Schjerfbeck’s talent was recognised when she was just 11 years old and she began attending art school. Her family could only afford to educate one of their children (her brother Magnus), but luckily her tutors believed in her potential and she was offered a full scholarship. When she was just 13, her father died from tuberculosis and her family fell further into poverty. But Schjerfbeck continued to receive funding, and by the age of 18, she was studying art in Paris on a trip paid for by the Finnish Government.

Schjerfbeck lived through some of the most seismic shifts in modern art, from Impressionism to Surrealism. But she was never one to follow the crowd and forged her own path. She drew inspiration everywhere from Old Master paintings to contemporary fashion magazines – and in the process she developed her own distinctive, expressive style. Her work defies categorisation and she is often seen as a “painter’s painter” - someone who constantly experimented with techniques, and was willing to push and take risks rather than repeat past successes.

He is little known outside her home country but Schjerfbeck’s fame may have spread further, were it not for the outbreak of war. In 1914, she was the only Finnish woman artist who took part in the prestigious Baltic Exhibition in Malmo, Sweden. The event was designed to show off the industry, art and culture of Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Russia but was interrupted when Germany and Russia entered the First World War on opposite sides of the conflict. Some 25 years later, Schjerfbeck’s work was due to be displayed in the USA for the first time, but the outbreak of the Second World War led to the exhibition being cancelled.

She lived with limited mobility after a childhood fall that broke her hip. Despite the barriers this would have posed to her, she travelled widely during her younger years, making trips to Vienna, St Petersburg, Florence, Paris and St Ives. While in England, her work was exhibited in a gallery on Piccadilly in London, close to where the Royal Academy of Arts still stands today. Schjerfbeck’s travels helped shape her unique style and she drew on everything she saw in Europe once back home in rural Finland. Although she wasn’t able to travel later in life, she never stopped painting. When she died in 1946 she had devoted more than 70 years to her art.

Schjerfbeck created self-portraits throughout her life but in her final two years, she drew and painted her own face more than 20 times, seemingly fascinated with the physical and psychological process of ageing. As she commented in a letter to a friend, “this way the model is always available, although it isn’t always pleasant to see oneself.” These later works show a move towards radically abstracted figuration that foreshadowed the portraiture of Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach.


This is part 1 of a 4-part series on the works of Helene Schjerfbeck:



1870-80 A Hunter with his Dogs
pencil 12 x 12 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1872-80 A Woman leaning against a Wall 
pencil 20.7 x 14.5 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1872-80 Beack Landscape
pencil 9.9 x 17 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1872-80 Cart
ink on paper 19.5 x 13 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1872-80 Fishing-Net Worker and a Boy
pencil 20.8 x 14.3 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1872-84 A Woman's Profile
pencil (sketchbook)
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1873 Young Woman and a Boy
pencil (sketchbook)
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1873-79 Sketch for Esaias Tegnér's Frithiofs Saga
pencil 13.2 x 12.3 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1875-80 Warrior in Helmet
oil on canvas 45.5 x 40 cm
Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1876 A young Man
pencil (sketchbook)
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1876 Henrik Adlercreutz
pencil (sketchbook)
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1877 A reading Man (after Mariano Fortune)
ink on paper 20.2 x 8.8 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1877-78 A Bear standing on its hind legs
(after a sculpture)
ink on paper 23.1 x 25.5 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1877-78 A Woman's Head (after Diaz de la Pena)
pencil and ink 11.5 x 9.6 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1872-74 Dancing Girl
pencil (sketchbook)
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1877-78 Atlas - sculpture
ink on paper 22 x 13.8 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1877-78 Bust of a Man
ink on paper 9.1 x 8 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1877-78 Bust of a Man (after Tintoretto)
ink on paper 18 x 14.5 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1877-78 Portrait of a Man
ink on paper 20.4 x 15.4 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1877-78 Two naked Women
pencil and ink 9.7 x 12.3 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1877-78 Violinist, detail (after Raphael)
ink on paper 21 x 13.5 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1877-78 Wrestlers (after Alexandre Falguière)
ink on paper 21 x 14.3 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1877-80 Sketch, historical subject, possibly the stories of Lieutenant Stool
ink on paper 13.7 x 17 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1877-83 Sitting man, leaning on his shovel
ink on paper 17.8 x 14 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1878 The Cossack (The Beautiful Cossack)
oil on canvas 60 x 44 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1878-80 Mauritz Maexmontan, luonnos
ink in cardboard 24 x 31 cm
Ateneum, , Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1878-88 Girl Sewing etc
pencil 28.7 x 14.3 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1879 A Historical Scene ink (sketchbook)
ink on paper
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1879 Little Liisa
oil on canvas 27.5 x 30 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1879 On the Jetty
oil on canvas 38.5 x 35 cm

1879 The Rich Man and Lazarus
ink on paper 22 x 18.3 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1879-80 A Scene from the Finnish War
ink (sketchbook)
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1879-80 A Soldier of Charles XII (after Gustaf Cederström)
ink (sketchbook)
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1879-80 A Street Singer girl and a boy playing the Accordion
medium? (sketchbook)
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1879-80 Egyptian Head, Cow
pencil (sketchbook)
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1879-80 Girl reading
ink (sketchbook)
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1879-80 Hanna Estlander plays the Piano
pencil on paper
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1879 Henrik Adlercreutz, the Artist's Cousin
ink (sketchbook)
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1879-80 Sketches of a painting "Soldier's Homecoming" in 1878
pencil and ink (sketchbook)
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1879-80 The artist's Mother-in-law Sofia Printz
ink (sketchbook)
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1879-80 Tree Rhizome, Löfö
pencil (sketchbook)
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1880 Illustration for the book Finska Folksagor, Berättade
pencil 11.5 x 17 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1880 Interior view of the Cluny Museum
ink on paper 9.5 x 13.5 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1880 Portrait of a Man
oil on canvas 46 x 39 cm

1880 Two Girls (and a child?) in a Boat
pencil (sketchbook)
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1880 Wounded Warrior in the Snow
oil on canvas 39 x 59.5 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1880-81 Drawing possibly based on a painting by Alphonse-Marie-Adolphe de Neuville
ink on paper 7.5 x 13.5 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1880-81 Washing Sheep
ink on paper 13.5 x 7 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsink
i

1880-82 Woman in the Woods
pencil (sketchbook)
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1881 A Boy feeding his little Sister
oil on canvas 115 x 94.5 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1881 French Country Girl (Girl and Spindle)
ink on paper 17.5 x 11 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1881 Girl with a Madonna
oil on canvas 34.5 x 44 cm
Helsingborg City Museum, Finland

1881 Rigoletto
oil on canvas 60 x 49 cm
Hämeenlinna Art Museum, Finland

1881 Spaniard
oil on canvas 41.5 x 31 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki


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