Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Helene Schjerfbeck - part 4

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 - 3 also.

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


1928 Shadow on the Wall II (Green Bench)
oil on canvas 64 x 51.5 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1928 The Apple Girl
oil on canvas 32 x 35 cm
Didrichsen Art Museum, Helsinki

1928 The Landlord II (Profile of a Man)
oil on canvas 48 x 38.5 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1928-29 Angel Fragment, after El Greco
oil on canvas 74 x 54 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1929 Girl from the Islands
oil on canvas 45 x 30.5 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1929 The Nephew
charcoal, pencil and watercolour 32 x 24.5 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1930 Still Life in Green
oil on canvas 33.5 x 50 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1932 Madonna and Child, after Cimabue
tempera and oil on canvas 48 x 35 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1932 Profile of a Woman (from memory)
oil on canvas 55 x 40 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1933 Göta
oil on canvas 31 x 30 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1933 The Teacher
oil on canvas 55 x 47 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1934 Green Apples and Champagne Glass
oil on canvas 40.5 x 33 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1934 Self-Portrait in Black Dress
oil on canvas
Lauri and Lasse Reitz Foundation, Helsinki

c1934 Camellia
oil on board 35 x 31 cm
Private Collection

1937 Self-Portrait with Palette
Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden

1938 Costume Picture (The Baker's Daughter)
lithograph 65 x 52 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1938 Silk Shoes
charcoal study 39.5 x 49.5 cm

1938 Silk Shoes
colour lithograph  on blue-greyish Canson & Montgolfier paper 48.5 x 63 cm


1938 The Picture Book
lithograph 27.5 x 41 cm

1938-39 The Convalescent
lithograph 50 x 70 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1939 Confirmation Candidate (Devotions)
lithograph 65.5 x 52 cm

1939 Forty Years Old
oil on canvas 40.5 x 33 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1939 Self-Portrait
oil on canvas 40 x 28.2 cm
Didrichsen Art Museum, Helsinki

1941 Madonna de la Charité, after El Greco
oil on canvas 46 x 33 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1941-42 Girl from Loviisa
oil on canvas 38.5 x 30.5 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1942 Anemone
gouache on paper 30.5 x 24 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1942 Corn Poppies
pencil and gouache on cardboard 23.5 x 29.5 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1942 Roses in a Blue-Green Vase
pencil and gouache 25 x 30.5 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1942 Self-Portrait
oil on board 38 x 31 cm
Private Collection

1942 Small Lilies
gouache on paper 31 x 24.5 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1942 Trees and Sunset, Hiidenvesi
charcoal and watercolour on paper 24.5 x 28.5 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1942 Virgin Mary, after El Greco
charcoal and watercolour 30.5 x 24.5 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1942 Yellow Roses
oil on canvas 24.5 x 26.5 cm

1942-45 Friends
oil on canvas 62 x 48 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1943 Finnish Nurse III (Ester Räihä)
oil on canvas 54.5 x 47 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1943 Girl with Blue Ribbon
charcoal, watercolour and gouache on buff paper
 46.7 x 34.2 cm
Private Collection

1943 My Father 1
oil on canvas 55.5 x 48.5 cm
Private Collection
(largely based on a Daguerreotype of her father 1860):

Daguerreotype

1943 Nurse I (Kaija Lahtinen)
oil on canvas 47 x 33.5 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1943 Profile of Madonna, after El Greco
oil on canvas 48 x 34 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1943 The Woodcutter, head study
oil on canvas 22.5 x 18.5 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

before 1944 Lemons in a Bowl
oil on canvas 34.5 x 59.5 cm

1944 Self-Portrait With Red Spot
oil on canvas 45 x 37 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

1944 Still Life with blackening Apples
oil on canvas 46 x 51 cm
Didrichsen Art Museum, Helsinki

1945 Green Self-Portrait "Light and Shadows"
oil on canvas 36 x 34 cm
Villa Gyllenberg, Helsinki

1945 Madonna Immaculata, after El Greco
gouache, watercolour, brush and ink and charcoal on paper 35.6 x 28.7 cm

1945 Self-Portrait en face I
oil on canvas 39.5 x 31 cm
Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

n.d. Madonna Immaculata, after El Greco
gouache, watercolour, brush and ink and charcoal on paper 35.6 x 28.7 cm

n.d. Flaxen-Haired Boy
oil on canvas 36 x 28.5 cm

n.d. Floxia
oil on canvas 36 x 42 cm

n.d. Head of a Female

n.d. Landscape with Trees (attributed to)
oil on canvas 41 x 33 cm

n.d. Lemons in a Bowl
oil on canvas 34.5 x 59.5 cm

n.d. Mother with a sick Child

n.d. The Alarm
oil o canvas 74 x 62 cm

n.d. Trees
oil on cardboard 29 x 33 cm


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