Helene Schjerfbeck

Fan account of Helene Schjerfbeck. She is one of Finland's most-cherished modernist painters. She is most widely known for her realist works and self-portraits, and less well known for her landscapes and still lifes. 

Last update
2021-09-27 00:38:08

    Girl from California I, Helene Schjerfbeck, 1919, Finnish National Gallery

    Baarman, Ulla (1895-1978), taiteilijan lempimalleja. "Edellisenä vuonna [=1918] Tammisaaressa Schjerfbeck oli jo saanut isoäitinsä Sofia Willstedtin sisaren, raatimiehen rouvan, Ulrika Baarmanin pojantyttären, Ruth Ulrika "Ulla" Baarmanin mallikseen. Tytön isä Uno Mortimer Alexander Baarman (1854-1916) oli ollut merikapteeni, joka asui muutamia vuosia Kaliforniassa, San Franciscossa, missä Ulla syntyi. Äiti oli Rosa Elisabeth o.s. Ekman (1859-1929), joka toimi San Franciscosta paluun jälkeen kauppiaana Tammisaaressa. Helene Schjerfbeckin tunnetuimmalle Ullasta tehdylle maalaukselle annettiin nimi Kalifornialainen, joka ei ole siis tuulesta temmattu, vaan todellisuuspohjainen, vaikka luonnollisesti maalauksen etelämaista luonnetta myös näin korostettiin. Ulla toimi tuolloin postivirkailijana Tammisaaressa ja oli mieluusti mallina vapaa-aikoinaan." (Leena Ahtola-Moorhouse 2009)


    The Seamstress (The Working Woman), Helene Schjerfbeck, 1905, Finnish National Gallery

    In the early 20th century Schjerfbeck developed her own distinctive style, a unique synthesis based on a harmony of blacks and browns, using areas of flat colour. The Seamstress (1905) is a fine example of this technique. The scissors hanging from her waist point to her occupation, but she is not busily at work; rather, she is resting, sunk in her thoughts. The essence of the model was very important to Schjerfbeck. Last week I engaged a model because I needed to change a head, but I found it’s impossible to combine the head of one model with the body of another, even in a bad painting. There is something characteristic in a person’s head, hands and feet. (Letter to Maria Wiik Oct 16,1907) (S) Schjerfbeck produced many works showing women in their home environment. The model was often her own mother, with whom she shared a home in Hyvinkää in 1902–23.


    The Old Brewery (Composition), Helene Schjerfbeck, 1918, Finnish National Gallery

    Schjerfbeck never completely abandoned the representational, but her landscape The Old Brewery (1918) is close to abstract, non-representational art. A tree stands at the right-hand side, while at centre-left we can just make out the roof of what must be the brewery. Otherwise nothing is clear. The composition is subtle and the act of painting can be seen in the areas of colour. The subject itself can barely be made out and the main elements are the colours: various shades of green, grey, and a touch of pale blue, all against a black background.


    The Nephew, Helene Schjerfbeck, 1929, Finnish National Gallery

    In Helene Schjerfbeck’s work Nephew we meet the artist’s nephew Måns Schjerfbeck (1897–1973), depicted in the manner of a modern urban man. He is not a he-man or a man showing off his muscles but a slightly feminine, beardless man. In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century modernity and modern art came to be almost synonymous with a new concept of female and male roles and appropriate behaviour. Modern art was seen as a direct product of the state of society, and was criticised as unsuitable and excessively rebellious. Måns’ features are not portrayed in a way that is especially masculine in any respect apart from his chiselled chin. Otherwise his appearance does not particularly feature characteristics considered typical of men or women but is simply only Måns.