Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Mothers, Daughters, and the Art of Helene Schjerfbeck

File:Helene Schjerfbeck.jpeg

Helene Schjerfbeck in the 1890s. 

The Finnish artist Helene Schjerfbeck (1862—1946) painted mainly works depicting women, children and the home. In the 1890s she simplified her style, eliminating background detail and reducing her palette.  These stylistic changes are seen in many of the portraits she painted of herself, her mother, and others.

Self portrait, 1912. 

“[Helene Schjerbeck]…was supposedly a Realist, a Romanticist, an Impressionist, a Naturalist, a Symbolist, an Expressionist and a wildly ahead-of-her-time Abstractist. Truthfully, there were elements of all of these in her work as the decades progressed and one would not be incorrect using any of these terms. But in the end she stripped herself of all save that which symbolized 83-years' worth of learning to see.”  From About.com, Helene Schjerbeck. 

School Girl in Black. 

“When the subject of a portrait is the artist's own mother, the relationship between the two is particularly interesting. Helene and Olga Schjerfbeck were very close…but their relationship was never open or without conflict. It was customary at the time for an unmarried daughter to take care of her ageing parents, which in practice meant living in the same household. Olga Schjerfbeck was a strong-willed woman, whose needs and whims her daughter tried to satisfy as best she could. The mother in turn viewed her adult daughter still as a little girl who needed care and protection, and she never fully learned to understand her daughter's profession.”  From Museums in Motion, notes on exhibition titled “The Golden Age of Finnish Art.”

At Home, Helene Schjerbeck’s portrait of her 64-year-old mother sewing. 

For more information about Helene Schjerbeck, click here


Zuzana said...

Interesting paintings. There is a feeling or an atmosphere of Scandinavia in the pictures, that I recognize. A some sort of sadness or depression, even though they are beautifully performed.
In here eyes there is reflection of pain, I feel. Or perhaps, it is just a reflection of reality.
Your posts always stir up emotions in me.;))

Woman in a Window said...

I always seem to pick up something here, learn something. I love her style and how it's reduced. Almost folk artsy to me, although with a smashing of something else.

angela recada said...

This was a wonderful little glimpse into Helene's life. I always enjoy reading about the lives of women, especially women artists. Thanks for this post!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Wonderful. I was completely unfamiliar with her. Funny, there is so much movement in her paintings to me. I can almost see the elderly lady's hands moving as she sews.

Cheryl said...

I love finding out about female artists who should be better known! Helene Schjerfbeck's work is sensitive, striking and beautiful. I like how her work is hard to define. On first impression I sense her choice of artistic approach depended on how much time she wanted to spend examining her subject. Interesting that her mother's portrait is so detailed as opposed to her self portrait.

Thanks for sharing this!

Jennifer Campaniolo said...

I was just in Sweden a few weeks ago and I would agree these paintings are stark but beautiful. I will read more about her. Thanks!


Jennifer Campaniolo said...

You might also like this artist:


The artist is Lars Lerin and I saw his work while I was in Sweden. I loved his portraits of old people.


Ingrid Mida said...

I love your posts about artists. You seem to understand their essence. She was truly ahead of her time in the level of abstraction. It must have been difficult for her to find any acceptance for these paintings. Even today, some people would find them too stark and abstracted.

Unknown said...

Yes, very stark. That self portrait seems a little sad. Wondering harsh painting a reflection of a harsh life.

La Belette Rouge said...

When people tell me that there is no gender inequality into the arts I ask them to tell me the names of 25 female visual artists. You are one person who could take that challenge. I love learning about women artists who are not household names. Thank you!

drollgirl said...

i love these works. they are so beautiful, especially the last one.

Maria Killam said...

Hey, both my parents are from Finland so that is my first language. When I saw this post I realized I know nothing about Finish artists at all. Very interesting. They look sad though, maybe it's just too cold and dark there most of the year to be very happy.

Gal Friday said...

I had never heard of this artist before, so I have to thank you for opening my eyes to someone's work that I would love to be able one day see up close(don't know if I'll ever get to Finland, but would watch out for any on-loan pieces in a museum near me one day)
The self-portrait is perfect, and again--something I would love to see up close and personal.

sallymandy said...

Protege: I know what you mean about the feeling of sadness. I did not relate it to Scandinavia, but I do live in a northern climate too, and maybe that's part of what's going on.

Thanks, WiW: I like the simplicity of this style, too.

Angela and Cheryl: me, too. I had not heard of Helene before I found her online.

Thanks, Jennifer. I'm going to look up Lars.

Thank you, Ingrid. That's a nice compliment. I love doing these posts, too. I learn so much.

Sher: You and Ingrid both said "stark." Funny, I didn't see them as stark so much as simple. Reduced to basics. I see what you mean though--espec. about the self-portrait.

Belette: Me, too--about the gender inequality. Most of these women were not known to me before I found them online for my blog. It's an education for a lot of us, I guess. Thank you.

Droll: Yes, I think that was considered one of her best works.

Maria: That's very interesting that you speak Finnish and are from that background. Maybe coming from a place with not much light has made you interested in color??!

Gal: I agree. I'd love to see an exhibit of her work.

Pamela: I see what you mean.