153. Helene Schjerfbeck (Finland 1862‑1946)

Signed with monogram HS. Pencil, 18.5 x 17 cm.

SEK 150.000 – 200.000
€ 15.000 – 21.000

Helene Schjerfbeck made her first known drawing of her own face when she was sixteen years old. Her first drawing was followed by a pencil drawing in 1880 (today in the Collection of Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki). The drawing probably dates from the years before she went to Paris, while her first oil painting was made during her productive time in France in 1884 (also included in the Collection of Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki). During the following years she painted several self-portraits, at the beginning not very frequently, but during her last years in the 1940’s she made quite a few.

In February 1944, in the middle of the war and just after the severe bombings of Helsinki, her friend and art dealer Gösta Stenman evacuated her to Sweden. It was the first and last time she flew in an airplane and she was then almost 83 years old. Once she reached Saltsjöbadens badhotell she felt completely exhausted, vulnerable and alone. That did not stop her from working. Gösta Stenman provided her with an easel, canvases, paint and paper, but she did not yet have a model that she could paint a portrait of. Therefore, she decided to do self-portraits. During these four years in exile she approved four drawings, and the self-portrait drawing in this sale is one of the approved drawings.

The self-portrait shows the outline of a scull without hair or neck, and with the hint of one ear. The Second World War permeated the world and she was very much aware of this matter. Perhaps she also sensed that her life was coming to an end.

Lena Holger
Author and art historian
October 2016

H.Ahtela, Helena Schjerfbeck, Helsingfors: Holger Schildt 1953. Cat. no 951.
Leena Ahtola-Moorhouse, Helene Schjerfbeck. And nobody knows what I´m like: Helene Schjerfbeck’s self-portraits 1878-1945. Helsinki: Taide 2000.

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