Lot 10
  • 10

Helene Schjerfbeck

500,000 - 700,000 GBP
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  • Helene Schjerfbeck
  • Girl with Blonde Hair
  • signed with initials and dated 16 lower right
  • oil on canvas
  • 56.5 by 44.5cm., 22½ by 17½in.


Uno Donner, Stockholm (purchased from the artist at the 1916 exhibition. Donner, 1872-1958, was a Finnish engineer living in Stockholm, whose brother Ossian had founded the United Woollen Mills factory in Hyvinkää)
Private collection


Stockholm, Liljevalchs konsthall, Finsk konst, 1916, no. 307 (as Flicka med utslaget hår)
Helsinki, Art House, Helena Schjerfbeck Memorial Exhibition, 1980


H. Ahtela (Einar Reuter), Helene Schjerfbeck, Stockholm, 1953, p. 362. no. 434, catalogued (as Flicka med blont hår, incorrectly dated 1915)
Helene Schjerfbeck: Finland's Modernist Revisited, exh. cat., Helsinki, 1992, p. 183, no. 256, catalogued & illustrated; p. 315, cited
Lea Bergström & Sue Cedercreutz-Suhonen, Helene Schjerfbeck: Models, Helsinki, 2003, pp. 62-63, cited
Helene Schjerfbeck 150 Years, exh. cat., Helsinki, 2012, p. 211, no. 368, catalogued & illustrated


The following condition report has been provided by Hamish Dewar Ltd, 13 & 14 Mason's Yard, London SW1Y 6BU: Structural Condition The canvas is unlined and is securely attached to a keyed wooden stretcher. This is providing an even and stable structural support. The canvas does not have any undulations or distortions as is often common when a canvas has been painted on both sides. The canvas appears to have been put on a slightly larger stretcher as there are old tack holes running intermittently along the left vertical and upper horizontal framing edges. These have been filled with a toned gesso. Paint Surface Recto: The paint surface has the artist's original unvarnished appearance. The paint surface appears entirely stable. Inspection under ultra-violet light shows small spots of fluorescence corresponding to the old tack holes which have been filled with toned gesso. There are also a few small spots of fluorescence to the right of the sitter's nose. These appear attributable to the artist's materials and techniques. Verso: The painting appears unvarnished and is entirely stable. Summary The painting would therefore appear to be in very good and stable condition and no work is required.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

The sweeping, decisive brushwork and sublime pure colour of Girl with Blonde Hair together make the work a prime example of Schjerfbeck’s expressive oeuvre. Synthesising the influence of the French Modernists with her own radical style, the work relates to The Family Heirloom (Ateneum, Helsinki; fig. 1), also of 1916, which depicts two girls gazing respectfully at a precious jewel. The sitters for the work, Jenny and Impi Tamlander, were neighbours of the artist and her mother in Hyvinkää, who ran errands and helped look after the Schjerfbecks' home. Although the composition originally also included the artist's brother Magnus, Schjerfbeck subsequently cut down the right part of the composition to remove him, thereby focusing attention on the girls. Their other sister, Elna, was the model for Girl in Rocking Chair of 1910.

In addition to Girl with Blonde Hair, Schjerfbeck also painted Impi’s elder sister Jenny in a slightly smaller painting (measuring 39.5 by 38cm, Signe & Ane Gyllenberg Foundation, Helsinki). While each of the separate depictions represents a more highly resolved exploration of the subject than in the group portrait, the present work is unquestionably the freest, most original, and abstracted of the series.

After sojourns in Paris, Pont-Aven, and St Ives in the 1880s, followed by a decade of teaching in Helsinki punctuated by further European travels, Schjerfbeck definitively resigned from her teaching commitments in 1902. Dogged by ill-health and seeking respite from the pressures of urban life, in June of that year the artist and her mother moved north from Helsinki to Hyvinkää, where they would remain in relative isolation over the next fifteen years. With her mother and local people she knew as models, Schjerfbeck rapidly evolved the modernist, pared-down artistic technique which she explored throughout the second half of her life. 

Life away from the urban centres did not lead to Schjerfbeck's art falling into obscurity, however. The art dealer Gösta Stenman (1888-1947) already owned several works by the artist when he first bought directly from her in 1913, while the forester, writer and artist Einar Reuter, her other key patron and proponent, first came to meet her in 1915, beginning a lifelong friendship. The first print-run of Reuter's self-funded monograph on Schjerfbeck, written under the pseudonym H. Ahtela, followed in 1917, the same year that Stenman organised the first solo exhibition of her art with 159 works at his Helsinki gallery, leading to great success both in critical reception and sales.

Paying little interest to her public profile, and always reticent in these years to engage in actively promoting her work, Schjerfbeck was nevertheless encouraged by Reuter and Stenman to exhibit at the major Finnish Art exhibition organised by Sven Strindberg at Liljevalchs konsthall in Stockholm in 1916. Among the ten paintings by Schjerfbeck exhibited at Liljevalchs was the present work, which also had the distinction of being the only one of her paintings for sale. The painting was bought at the exhibition by Uno Donner (1872-1958), a Finnish engineer living in Stockholm, whose brother Ossian had founded the United Woollen Mills factory in Hyvinkää. Satisfied that the painting had gone to a good home, and with her profile boosted by the 1916-17 exhibitions and monograph, Schjerfbeck might have felt the time was right to return to urban life, but her reaction was quite the opposite: ‘All my friends tell me: Now you can move to Helsinki, heaven preserve me, I can’t do that’ (letter to Einar Reuter, 1 October 1917).

Inspection of the verso reveals that Schjerfbeck originally used the other side of the canvas as a study for The Tapestry, of 1914-16 (now in a private collection, fig. 2). The tightly-clasped hands of the man are clearly drawn while his profile is rather softer, and while the study may only have focussed on the man rather than the entire composition, Schjerfbeck must have cut it down along the top edge at least. Dismissing this composition by painting roughly over the top in white and red pigments, it is likely Schjerfbeck initially meant simply to reuse the surface by painting over it before deciding to turn over the canvas to begin again.