The galleries at the Villa Gyllenberg, with the works of Helene Schjerfbeck on display.


HELSINKI- I recently visited Helsinki where I was attending the opening of an exhibition celebrating Helene Schjerfbeck's 150th anniversary year. It was at the Gyllenberg Foundation, whose collection is second only to The Ateneum, Finland's National Gallery. The setting is fascinating. The former home of Signe and Ane Gyllengerg, it sits on the shore of a lake and was blanketed in snow when I visited, making it an extraordinary oasis of calm.

The exhibition is curated by an old friend and former colleague, the delightful Nina Zilliacus and the Schjerfbeck scholar and Gyllenberg veteran, Sue Cedercreutz. In addition to the Gyllenberg's own collection, Nina and Sue have secured more than 30 loans from private and public collections and there will be a catalogue that, crucially for spreading the word, has an English translation.


Schjerfbeck has already started to attract discerning international collectors. Sotheby's got the ball rolling in 1990 with the sale of her late painting Dancing Shoes of 1939. It sold £1 million – a world record price. In 2007 I was auctioneer for an oil of the same subject from 1882, when she was just 20 years old, which I hammered down for just over £3 million in London.

During her lifetime – she died in 1944 – Schjerfbeck kept out of the limelight, isolating herself in order to commit her singular spirit to canvas. Despite her reclusiveness her work has emerged as every bit as innovative and thought-provoking as her male contemporaries who worked in Paris. To me she is one of the 20th century's great lone artistic voices.