- Helene Schjerfbeck
- The Red-Haired Girl II
- signed with initials upper left
- oil and graphite on canvas
- 37 by 36 cm., 14½ by 14¼in.
Stockholm, Nationalmuseum, Contemporary Finnish Art 1914-44, 1944, no. 196
Helsinki, Galerie Hörhammer, Wulff Collection, 1954, no. 76
Helsinki, Art Hall, Helene Schjerfbeck Memorial Exhibition, 1954, no. 76
Lübeck, St. Annen-Museum, Helene Schjerfbeck, 1969, no. 11
Helsinki, Art House, Helena Schjerfbeck Memorial Exhibition, 1980, no. 30b
Helsinki, Ateneum; Washington D.C., The Phillips Collection; New York, The National Academy of Design, Helene Schjerfbeck, 1992-93, no. 250, illustrated on the catalogue cover
Helsinki, Signe and Ane Gyllenberg Foundation, About Spirituality in Art: Helene Schjerfbeck Anniversary Exhibition, 2012, n.n., illustrated in the catalogue (as Punainen pää II / Det Röda huvudet II)
Helsinki, Signe and Ane Gyllenberg Foundation, Gems from the Wulff Collection, 2014
Helene Schjerfbeck 150 Years, exh. cat., Helsinki, 2012, p. 208, no. 357, catalogued & illustrated
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The exquisite synthesis of linear elegance, painterly texture and subtle intimacy that Schjerfbeck achieves in Red Haired Girl II is the high point of a series of figure paintings that she completed during her time in Hyvinkää. Having resigned from her teaching post at the Finnish Art Society Drawing School in Helsinki for reasons of ill health, she withdrew to Hyvinkää in 1902 to live with her mother and recuperate. There in relative isolation, she developed the modernist, paired down technique which she explored throughout the second half of her life, and which reaches such sophistication in the present work.
Schjerfbeck's interest in the subject of the red haired girl grew in prominence during the Hyvinkää years. In 1913 she painted Red Headed Girl (19.5 by 23cm., private collection), and incorporated the sitter's distinctive pose and profile into the left hand sitter in her double head study Sisters of the same year (31 by 42cm., private collection). The contemplative downcast angle of the red-haired girl that is the subject of the present work first appears in the three-quarter length figure in Outside the Sauna (Diana) of 1915-17 (65 by 52cm., Hämeenlinna Art Museum; fig. 1). The exquisite delicacy of the moment captured is intimated in the gesture of the woman drying herself in the charcoal and gouache study for the composition. But the sublime serenity of the figure is only fully revealed when Schjerfbeck focuses her undivided attention on the figure's head, first in Red Haired Girl I (fig. 2), which she gifted to her friend and supporter Einar Reuter, and ultimately in the present work, Red-Haired Girl II. It is in these two paintings that Schjerfbeck distills with such an economy of means the outer beauty and inner purity of her sitter, and in the process evokes a deeply considered and profoundly moving ideal of female beauty.
As the final stage in the development of Schjerfbeck's extraordinarily compelling reductive process, it is illuminating to observe how Red Haired Girl II builds on Red Haired Girl I. The present work is notably the slightly larger of the two canvases - 37 by 36cm., versus 31 by 31cm. The pencil delineation of the profile of the forehead, nose and mouth in Red Haired Girl II is both clearer and more delicate; there is greater differentiation between the colour of the sitter's right cheek and the colour of her hair; and the bob of hair that hangs down across the left side of her face is also more carefully defined. In short, what Schjerfbeck captured so sublimely in Red Haired Girl I, she has further perfected in the present work, to achieve a breath-taking climax to a fascinating painterly progression and realising in the process an icon of femininity.
The importance of Red Haired Girl II in the Schjerfbeck canon was clearly recognised when the painting was selected as the cover image for the ground-breaking retrospective of the artist's work at the Helsinki Ateneum in 1992. Now, approaching twenty-five years later, the painting continues to represent the artist at the peak of her painterly powers, an enduring image that resonates with public appreciation for her work.