Helene Schjerfbeck was a Finnish painter who is today considered one of the Nordic countries' most prominent modern artists, despite modest success in her lifetime. She began her education as a pupil of the Finnish painter and art professor Adolf von Becker in Helsinki in the 1870s. In 1880 she received a scholarship which enabled her to continue her studies in Paris, where she was a pupil of Gustave Courbet at the Académie Colarossi. Painters such as Léon Bonnat and Jules Bastien-Lepage also had a great influence on her during her stay in the French capital.
Schjerfbeck lived the rest of his life quietly and isolated in small Finnish towns after spending time in Cornwall and Italy. She also taught for eight years in Helsinki. It was only when she was 75 years old that she finally broke through with an exhibition in Stockholm in 1937.
The art of Schjerfbeck is known for moving from a naturalistic expression to a somewhat quiet and distinctive form of expressionism. Her early works included youth portraits, historical and religious compositions, and French cityscapes and interiors, which were kept in a sensitive naturalistic style. In the 1890s her art began to take on stronger symbolist features, and after 1900 she continued to develop her expression in expressive concentration and simplification of the motifs, with marked line rhythm and sparse, finely calculated color accents. The motifs are mainly standing and seated figures, study heads, flower and fruit still lifes, simple landscapes and not least a number of highly expressive self-portraits.
The National Museum/National Gallery in Oslo owns a Madonna paraphrase after El Greco (1944) made by Schjerfbeck.
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