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Helene Schjerfbeck (Finland 1862‑1946)

”Sotilaan kotiinpaluu” – ”The Return of the Warrior”

To be sold at Uppsala Auktionskammare’s Important Sale Week 13 – 16 June 2023

Lot 482 Helene Schjerfbeck (Finland 1862‑1946). ”Sotilaan kotiinpaluu” – ”The Return of the Warrior”. Signed with monogram and dated HS -78 lower left. Oil on relined canvas, 37 x 48 cm.

400.000 – 500.000 SEK
€ 35.000 – 44.000


Helsinki Taidehalli, Suomen Taideyhdistyksen 100-Vuotisjuhlanäyttely I (Finska Konstföreningens 100-årsjublieumsutställning I), 9 March-31 March 1946, cat. no. 246.
Tampereen Taidemuseo, 1985.


H. Ahtela (Einar Reuter), Helena Schjerfbeck, 1953, cat. no. 17.

Helene Schjerfbeck

The outstanding talent of the young Helene Schjerfbeck

Even though executed when Helene Schjerfbeck was only sixteen years old, she strikes us with her utmost painterly skills in this work now being offered at auction. From a very early age it was clearly visible that the young Helene Schjerfbeck was a talent with the possibility of an extremely bright future ahead of her. Evolving during the following decades was an inspiring and distinctive artistry that was to become one of the most mythic ones of the Nordic artists, active around the turn of the century 18/1900. The struggle and independency of the invigorating Schjerfbeck has captivated admirers around the world and undoubtedly each accomplished work in the early years was a milestone that led her further down the path towards her forthcoming outstanding career.

The childhood of Helene Schjerfbeck was characterised by challenges, and so was also her future life to become. Her life started harsh when she at the age of four fell down some stairs which caused a lifetime hip injury, which prevented her from attending school and left her with a limp for the rest of her life. It was a teacher that first noticed Helene’s artistic skills and encouraged her to enroll at the Finnish Art Society School of drawing, at the remarkably young age of only eleven years in 1873. Growing up together with her parents and two years older brother Magnus, the family suffered hard when Helene’s father Svante died of tuberculosis in 1876. The mother Olga struggled with the economic difficulties which affected her relation to the teenage children and caused a relation of conflicts. The Finnish genre painter and art professor Adolf von Becker was impressed by the promising young girl’s talent and supported her continuous education, eventually she also became his student at Becker’s private academy where he inspired his adepts with the French oil painting techniques. 

The realism seen in Schjerfbeck’s early works strikes with the direct unmasked truth of the reality. The historical motif of the wounded warrior that returns to the humble cottage has been captured in a moment of despair. The warrior comes with bad news as he bends his head with his hand covering the face, the seated older man seems affected by the news and the woman reaches out with a comforting hand on his shoulder. Depicted in darker colour tones of grey and brown, the scene has been enhanced by only a few effective colourful details, as seen in the white parts of the bandage around the warrior’s head and the shirts. Shining bright is the red part of the woman’s dress and the green vest of the older man. At this time, it seems evident that Schjerfbeck was experimenting with the play of light in her paintings. The contrasts between the shadows and the light in the composition is clearly visible in the interplay between the figures that truly is the central focus of this painting. Created when the talented Schjerfbeck was still a striving youth, we already meet her great sense of sensibility, and it is obvious that this is a work created by what was to become one of Scandinavia’s most appreciated artists ever. Throughout her life, Schjerfbeck continuously searched to develop her artistry, always searching forward. As concluded by Roberta Smith in New York Times in an article on November 27, 1992: “Her works starts with a dazzlingly skilled, somewhat melancholic version of late-19th-century academic realism… it ends with distilled, nearly abstract images in which pure paint and cryptic description are held in perfect balance.”

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Sofie Bexhed


Tel: 0705-22 61 62

Amanda Rass


Tel: 0720-70 22 61

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