Logga in

Helene Schjerfbeck (Finland 1862‑1946)

”Viskningen” (The whisper) – Self-portrait

To be sold at Uppsala Auktionskammare’s Important Sale Week 11 – 14 June 2024

Lot 689 Helene Schjerfbeck (Finland 1862‑1946). ”Viskningen” (The whisper) – Self-portrait. Signed with monogram HS lower right. Charcoal and watercolour on paper, 18 x 14.5 cm (paper).

Executed in 1944.


300.000 – 400.000 SEK
€ 26.000 – 34.000


The collection of art dealer Gösta Stenman (1888-1947).
Thence by descent within the Stenman family.
Bukowskis, Stockholm, 25‑27 November 1986, lot 500.
An important Swedish private collection.


(Possibly) Gösta Stenmans konsthandel, Stockholm, ”Helene Schjerfbeck”, 1954, cat. no. 116.
Ateneum, Helsinki, ”Helene Schjerfbeck”, 2 February-5 April 1992, cat. no. 503.
The Philips Collection, Washington D.C., ”Helene Schjerfbeck. Finland’s Modernist Rediscovered”, 16 May-30 August 1992, cat. no. 503.
The National Academy of Design, New York, ”Helene Schjerfbeck. Finland’s Modernist Rediscovered”, 23 September 1992‑10 January 1993, cat. no. 503.
Galleri Axlund, Stockholm, ”Helene Schjerfbeck – Teckningar och akvareller”, 9 April-8 May 1994, cat. no. 44.
Göteborgs Konstmuseum, Gothenburg, ”Helene Schjerfbeck – Teckningar och akvareller”, 11 May-28 August 1994, cat. no. 44.
Sundsvalls museum, Sundsvall, ”Helene Schjerfbeck – Teckningar och akvareller”, 3 December 1994‑8 January 1995, cat. no. 44.
Amos Anderssons konstmuseum, Helsinki, ”Helene Schjerfbeck – Teckningar och akvareller”, 28 January-2 April 1995, cat. no. 44.
Nordjyllands Kunstmuseum, Aalborg, ”Helene Schjerfbeck: kvinder, mandsportraetter, selvportraetter, landskaber, stilleben”, 12 September-16 November 1997, cat. no. 46.
Turku Art Museum, Turku, ”Helene Schjerfbeck: kvinder, mandsportraetter, selvportraetter, landskaber, stilleben”, 5 December 1997‑29 March 1998, cat. no. 46.
Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris, ”Visions du Nord, Lumière du Monde, Lumière du Ciel”, 5 February-17 May 1998, cat. no. 187.
Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, ”Helene Schjerfbeck 1862‑1946”, 2 February-6 May 2007, cat. no. 120.
Gemeentemuseum, Den Haag, ”Helene Schjerfbeck 1862‑1946”, 17 May-2 September 2007, cat. no. 120.
Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris, ”Helene Schjerfbeck 1862‑1946”, 11 October 2007‑16 January 2008, cat. no. 120.
Ateneum, Helsinki, ”Helene Schjerfbeck – 150 years”, 1 June-14 October 2012, cat. no. 696.
Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde, Stockholm, ”Helene Schjerfbeck – 150 years”, 3 November 2012‑12 February 2013, cat. no. 696.
Göteborgs Konstmuseum, Gothenburg, ”Helene Schjerfbeck – 150 years”, 16 March-18 August 2013, cat. no. 696.
Åmells konsthandel, Stockholm, ”Helene Schjerfbeck”, 5‑19 October 2013.


H. Ahtela, Helena Schjerfbeck, 1953, p. 371, no. 951 or 954 in the catalogue,
Ateneum, Helsinki, Helene Schjerfbeck, exhibition catalogue, 1992, cat. no. 503, illustrated p. 79.
Lena Holger, Helene Schjerfbeck – teckningar och akvareller, 1994, cat. no. 44, p. 100, illustrated p. 101.
Leena Ahtola-Moorhouse, Och ingen vet hurudan jag är – Helene Schjerfbecks Självporträtt 1878‑1945, 2000, p. 69, illustrated p. 68.
Leena Ahtola-Moorhouse (ed.), Helene Schjerfbeck – 150 years, exhibition catalogue, 2012, cat. no. 696, illustrated p. 340.
Åmells konsthandel, Helene Schjerfbeck, 2013, p. 50, illustrated p. 59.

In context

To be captured by the self-portraits of Helene Schjerfbeck is truly an intense and intriguing experience. Stoic and reserved, she approaches us with a strong integrity and tension and creates a grand drama with the simplest means of a few brush strokes and subdued colours. In her latest years of production, Helene Schjerfbeck is to be regarded as one of the most significant modernists in the Western art. Through her stylization, that approaches abstraction, she developed an artistic innovation that was completely her own. In a period of time when she was concluding all her experiences at the age of impressing eighty years, she excels and enhances with an intensifying creativity. She turns to herself and to the inner emotions. Naked and revealing she faces the reality of decay with an utterly honest approach. With a great sensitiveness she expresses the reminiscence of a fugitive soul that is about to continue its journey. Her finale is her triumph. 

Schjerfbeck’s life was characterized by the serious atmosphere in her home and the early feeling of alienation and loneliness. Due to a hip injury in early ages, Schjerfbeck could not attend regular school and was homeschooled, which is believed to have strengthened her sense of exclusion. This feeling was something that would follow her throughout her life, the closest one she had was herself and to herself she also turned in her expressive and stripped-downed self-portraits, a common thread throughout her career. In her last years, in the absence of other models, she depicted herself more and more often. Between the years 1939 and 1945, she produced perhaps her strongest series of self-portraits in which she dealt with her body and the degradation of her mind. The portraits seethe with honest candor – to themselves and to the viewer. The paintings show the aging artist, her physical change and the psychological struggles of the mind. 

In the year of 1944 Schjerfbeck had to leave Finland due to the war and settled in Sweden, where she would spend her last years. She painted around twenty self-portraits that were all acquired by her patron Gösta Stenman, that also supported her with the artistic materials she wished for. Thanks to this, Schjerfbeck could stay at Saltsjöbadens badhotel where she isolated herself in her room, working with an almost obsession with what was to become her final works. A remarkable task for a person of her age and in poor powers. However, she managed to transfer her life force and wrath into aggressive creativity. With an increased artistic sensibility, from a person that throughout her life had had to struggle with difficulties and whose essence from the beginning had been the signature of the fragile; the child, the woman and the femininity, now continues her focus to its grand old lady. With admiration we esteem her remarkably ability to conclude her achievement at height.

“The whisper” approaches us with a tremendous strength in the radiance of Schjefbeck’s facial expression. Difficulty flows from her deep sources into a painting that vibrate with doubt, sadness and fear of death. She is thin, fragile and obliterated. Her face confronts us with two sides, her left part with strong dark contours of the charcoal, her right part covered by a very thin, almost see-through pale grey tone. As if only half of her is left. She glances through her eye that is almost closed, her mouth opened to fill her body with air and express a silent word of despair. Like a shadow of her former self, she whispers. Still close, still fading away. Further can art not reach, in depth and the pursuit of ‘the only necessary’. We bow in awe to the astonishing ability of this sincere grandness, searching for the aim to let the painting continue to, with the words of its previous appreciator, “someone that can also see in it, one’s own abyss”.

Back to catalogue »


Julia Unge Sörling


Klassisk och äldre konst
Tel: 0701-08 14 08

Sofie Bexhed


Tel: 0705-22 61 62

Mer information