PROPERTY FROM A EUROPEAN PRIVATE COLLECTION
Måns Schjerfbeck (Måns Schjerfbeck, the artist's brother and favourite model was a school teacher, and taught the owner of the present work mathematics, writing and geography)
Hanna Schjerfbeck (daughter of the above)
Sale: Bukowski, Helsinki, 16th April 1988, lot 143
Purchased at the above sale by the father of the present owner
Painted in 1922, the present work juxtaposes two of the most recurrent and intensely personal motifs of Schjerfbeck's later period: still life and figural works.
Already by the turn of the century, Schjerfbeck was less interested in the conventional nature morte and its faithful rendition, intrigued instead by the expressive potential of psychological plays of colours, shapes and rhythms. Still lifes stopped being inanimate objects and became abstract patterns of light and colour, and Schjerfbeck's delicate health and nervous disposition engendered a strong sensitivity to nature. 'The serenity of Helene Schjerfbeck's still lifes reflects the isolation and solitude through which the artist found the essential: the concentration of mind, contemplation and simplicity of expression provide immediate contact and impact' (Helmiriitta Sariola, 'Nature morte' in Helene Schjerfbeck, Ateneum, Helsinki, 1992, exh. cat. p. 83).
Schjerfbeck's version of The Gypsy Woman (fig. 1) that is on the reverse of the present painting is no less potent than the still life. There are two other known versions of Gypsy Woman, both painted in 1919, the largest, most finished being Sorrow (Child of the Heat, The Gypsy Woman). Schjerfbeck's scratchings-out to the surface of the oil and the abstract forms that build the figure on the reverse express the raw emotion exuded by the gypsy, who in the finished oil is surrounded by amorphous space to emphasise her solitude.
By the time Schjerfbeck executed the present work, she had been living since 1902 in Hyvinkää, a quiet rural community away from the prejudices related to the perceived restrictions of her sex and her disability. Schjerfbeck was absorbed into a society that accepted and understood her, and had attained commercial and critical success on a national level, being represented by the Stenman Gallery, accepting commissions from societies like the Finnish Art Society, showing works in the annual Turku Art Society exhibition, and being awarded the Order of the White Rose of Finland in 1920.
FIG. 1, Reverse of the present work
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