Friday, 30 April 2021

Helene Schjerfbeck - part 3

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.


For earlier works see parts 1 & 2 also.

This is part 3 of a 4-part series on the works of Helene Schjerfbeck:


1909 Maria
oil on canvas 57 x 73 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1909 My Mother
oil on canvas?
Private Collection

1910 On the Rocking Chair
oil on canvas 63 x 59.5 cm
Turku Art Museum, Aurakatu, Finland

1910-11 The Woodcutter
oil on canvas 58 x 41 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1910s Girl Reading
oil on canvas laid on board 21 x 19.5 cm

1911 Under the Linden
oil on canvas 62 x 46 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1912 Girl on the Sand
tempera on canvas 57 x 50 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1912 Paavo
watercolour and charcoal on paper 27.6 x 24.1 cm

1912 Self-Portrait
oil on canvas 43.5 x 42 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1913 Sisters
pencil, charcoal, watercolour and oil on paper laid on card 32.4 x 43.8 cm

1913-26 Self-Portrait
oil, coal and watercolour on canvas 32 x 24 cm
Pori Art Museum, Finland

1914-17 The Tapestry
oil on canvas (details not found)

1915 Head of a Girl
charcoal 50 x 35 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1915 Red Apples
oil on canvas 40.5 x 40.5 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1915 Self-Portrait with Silver Background
watercolour, charcoal, pencil and silver on paper 47 x 37.5 cm
Turku Art Museum, Aurakatu, Finland

1915 Self-Portrait, Black Background
oil on canvas 45.5 x 36 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1915 The Red-Haired Girl II
pencil and oil on canvas 37 x 36 cm
Serlachius Museum Gösta, Mänttä-Vilppula, Finland

1915-16 The Family Heirloom
oil on canvas 63 x 44.5 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1915-18  Einar Reuter (Study in Brown)
oil on canvas 44.5 x 37 cm

1916 Circus Girl
oil on canvas 43 x 36.5 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1916 Girl with Blonde Hair
oil on canvas 56.5 x 44.5 cm

1916-17 Singer
oil on canvas 36 x 32.5 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1917 Chinese Child
watercolour on paper 27.5 x 30.5 cm

1917 Mother and Child
oil on canvas 48.5 x 48.5 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1917 Picture Book
charcoal, watercolour and gouache on buff paper
26 x 38.2 cm

1917 Singer in Black
oil on canvas 52.5 x 37.5 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1918 Emigrant
oil on canvas 70 x 53.5 cm
Private Collection

1918 Slottsgränd, Tammisaari
watercolour 25 x 20.5 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1918 The Little Servant
Ostrobothnian Museum, Vaasa, Finland

1918 The Old Brewery (Composition)
oil on cardboard 51.5 x 40.6 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1918 The Sailor (Einar Reuter)
oil on canvas 62.5 x 70 cm
Private Collection

1919 Girl from California I
oil on canvas 39.5 x 38.5 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1919 The Gipsy Woman
oil on canvas 66 x 55.5 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki


1920 Einar Reuter III
oil on canvas 34 x 28 cm
Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

c1920s The Girl from California
charcoal and gouache on paper 44.5 x 35 cm

1921 Smiling Girl
oil and mixed media on paper 32 x 27.5 cm

1921 Unfinished Portrait
oil on canvas
Riihimäki Art Museum, Finland


Unfinished Portrait 1921

Slashed over, unfinished self-portrait dicovered on the back of "Factory Workers on the way to Work" (see below) in 2003 by paper conservator Päivi Ukkonen. Stamped with a customs mark. The main paintings was displayed for decades without anyone realising this was at the back.


1921-22 Factory Workers on the Way to Work
 oil on canvas 44.5 x 50 cm
Riihimäki Art Museum, Finland

1923 Annuli Reading
oil on canvas 37 x 30.5 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1924 The Fencer
watercolour, gouache and charcoal on paper, laid on board 37 x 32 cm
Private Collection

1924-25 Robber at the Gate of Paradise
oil on canvas 83.5 x 62.5 cm
Gösta Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation, Mänttä, Finland

1925 Blond Woman
oil on canvas 50.5 x 3.5 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1926 Matti Kiianlinna, Actor
oil on canvas 64 x 51 cm
Gösta Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation, Mänttä, Finland

1926 The Fortune-Teller (Woman in Yellow Dress)
oil on canvas 65.5 x 51 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1927 Convalescent
(details not found)

1927 Rosy-Cheeked Girl
oil on canvas 46.5 x 36 cm
Gösta Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation, Mänttä, Finland

1927 Sjundby Manor
oil on canvas 79.5 x 94 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1927 The Seamstress, Half-Length Portrait (The Working Woman)
oil on canvas 67 x 49.5 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1928 Girl with Large Eyes (Karin)
pencil and watercolour 19.5 x 20.5 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1928 Head of a Girl (Vignette, Karin)
charcoal 31.5 x 24.5 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1928 Modern Schoolgirl
oil on canvas 66.5 x 50 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1928 Portrait of Jalo Sihtola
pencil and gouache on cardboard 29.3 x 24.5 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

















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