Briefly in English

Background and aim

Helene Schjerfbeck-sällskapet i Ekenäs r.f. (Helene Schjerfbeck Society of Ekenäs) is a non-profit-making society. Its aim is to keep the memory of Helene Schjerfbeck alive with special emphasis on her artistic work during her residence in Ekenäs (Tammisaari). She stayed in Ekenäs during several periods, the longest of these was the period 1925-44. She is one of Finland's foremost pictorial artists. The Schjerfbeck Society organizes lectures, seminars and other events. All its activities are open to the general public. Everyone who is interested can apply for membership of the society.

 

About the Society

The Helene Schjerfbeck Society of Ekenäs was founded in 2007. Its initial aim was to organize a competition for a memorial of her in Skepparträdgården (Sea Captain's Garden) in Ekenäs, which Helene Schjerfbeck herself sometimes refers to as her "studio". The Pro Artibus Foundation was an important collaborative partner in this project. The competition was held and was won by the Norwegian artist A K Dolven, whose work The Finnish Untuned Bell was erected and inaugurated in 2011. The Society has also contributed to the naming of a street after her in the centre of Ekenäs and to the opening of a permanent exhibition of her art in Museicentret Ekta (Ekta Museum Centre).

The Schjerfbeck Society's main function today is to disseminate information about her art to a wider public, first and foremost by organizing lectures, seminars, study visits and other events. Our important collaborative partners are Museicentret Ekta, the Pro Artibus Foundation and the City of Raseborg. Whenever possible, the Society also produces printed and medial material for the dissemination of information. Helene Schjerfbeck's birthday is celebrated on 10th July every year. The Society's activities are open to the public and everyone who is interested in Helene Schjerfbeck's art is welcome to apply for membership.

The operational and administrative language of the society is Swedish.

 

Membership

The Society today has about 70 members. The yearly subscription has been kept low, at the moment it is 10 €. Payment of the subscription entitles members to receive membership letters and information about activities a couple of times a year as well as the right to take part in study trips at a somewhat reduced price. Museicentret Ekta gives members of the Society the extra benefit of free admission to the permanent Schjerfbeck exhibition in the museum from the late autumn of 2015. The Society's activities are financed by subscriptions and external funds. Its programme varies from year to year depending on the level of external grants. Anyone who wishes to become a member should get in touch with the Chairperson Jennifer Dahlbäck, jennifer.dahlback(at)villaschildt.fi or the Secretary Åsa Lönnqvist, asa.lonnqvist(at)proartibus.fi.

 

Shortly about Helene Schjerfbeck

Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946) is one of the foremost of Finland's pictorial artists.  Her art broadly falls into two categories: the nineteenth century naturalistic way of painting and twentieth century modernism.  Her works captivate us through their strong presence and through the tension created by emotional restraint. As a young woman she received several scholarships extending over several years from the Senate for study abroad, but the artistic renewal that she attained was not fully understood and appreciated in Finland.  However, she managed to pull herself out of a depressive period in the 1890s, when she was forced to teach, after which she established herself as an artist in the frontline of twentieth century avantgarde painting with the help of her epoch-making works.

Helene Schjerfbeck was born on 10th July 1862 into a middle class family in Helsingfors (Helsinki), who had lost most of their assets. Her father died early and her mother thus became a single parent with two children.  Helene had to earn, by her own work and effort, the money necessary for her to attend art schools in Helsingfors and later for her to study in France.

Academie Colarossi was her main art school in Paris and she mentions Gustave Courtois (1852-1924) as her teacher.  Helene Schjerfbeck achieved international success when took part in the international exhibitions in the Paris salons. Premiere verdure, from 1888, is is the best known of these paintings. It gained a bronze medal at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1889 under the name Konvalescenten (The Convalescent).  In addition to the salon works,  Helene Schjerfbeck also painted minor works such as Dörren (The Door) (1884) and Skuggan på muren (The Shadow on the Wall) (1883), both of which contain new approaches to painting. She painted these pictures in the artists' colony of Pont-Aven in Brittany, whereas Konvalescenten was painted in St Ives in Cornwall. It was very important for Helene Schjerfbeck's artistic development that she was able to see important art collections, have direct contact with other artists and be free from her duties at home.

Her modernist development flourished and matured during her years in the small industrial town of Hyvinge (Hyvinkää), where she voluntarily retired together with her mother in 1902.  There she developed the human form as one of her favourite motifs in her art, which more and more concentrated and focussed on the essence of things. She kept in touch with her friends by intensive correspondence, but did not move outside her most intimate circle for fifteen years.  Her main works from this period are Arbeterskan (1905) (The Working Woman) (1905), I hemmet (At Home) (1903) and Vedhuggaren (1911) (The Wood Cutter).

During her years at Hyvinge at the beginning of the twentieth century two men came into her life.  They were the art dealer Gösta Ekman (1888-1947) and the forester-artist Einar Reuter, alias H Ahtela (1881-1968).  Both of them contributed to a new awareness of her work among the general public. It was thanks to these two men that she came to have her first separate exhibition in Helsingfors in 1917.

Helene Schjerfbeck moved to Ekenäs permanently in 1925, where she had earlier been quite frequently.  During her years in Ekenäs her contact with Stenman strengthened, since he had moved to Sweden permanently in 1930.  This suited Helene Schjerfbeck well, because she was easily disturbed by too much attention from the media.  She learned the techniques of lithography at the age of seventy-six, encouraged by Stenman, and she wished, with her lithographic works, to help him realize his dream of establishing his own art museum in Sweden in 1917.

After pressure from Stenman, Helene Schjerfbeck flew to Stockholm in February 1944 to escape the war in Finland.  She died at a spa hotel in Saltsjöbaden on 23rd January 1946. In spite of declining health, she was able to go on painting right up to the end.  She completed her series of unique self-portraits in her anxiety-ridden solitude in Sweden.   

Written by Leena Ahtola­-Moorhouse