Helene Schjerfbeck’s androgynous, timeless portraits attract the selfie generation

Helene Schjerfbeck’s androgynous, timeless portraits attract the selfie generation

Equality & diversity

In summer 2019 the Royal Academy of Arts will hold an exhibition of Finnish painter Helene Schjerfbeck (1862–1946) The exhibition reveals the turning points of Schjerfbeck´s career. “It will make Schjerfbeck an international household name”, says Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, the curator of Ateneum Art Museum.

You have been preparing the Schjerbeck´s exhibition with Royal Academy in secret for few years. How do you feel now?

“Pretty awesome. Schjerfbeck has already been touring around Europe, but not in Britain before. London’s museum scene is one of the biggest so this is the next step for Schjerfbeck´s international fame and visibility. As the icing on the cake, the exhibition is held in summer, in the best season of the year in a brand new gallery.”

What kind of exhibition will be seen London?

“The captivating self-portraits are at the heart of the exhibition. The first hall will present portraits of Schjerbeck´s friends from her early years in Cornwall. She moved from France to England to live with her lifelong friend Marianne Stokes. While in St. Ives Schjerbeck made one of her best-known paintings The Convalescent. In the second hall there will be a sequence of self-portraits throughout her career from 1900 to 1945. The third hall introduces Schjerbeck’s portrayal of modern people: men, women and the whole spectrum of between.”

The interest for Schjerbeck´s work seems to be growing. What makes her appealing for today’s audiences?

“Her pieces are timeless, so they seem relevant. Representing a large variety of identities and modern people, the androgynous and simplicity of her work attract and draw attention in our time. And it’s not accidental. Schjerfbeck wrote a lot about how she tries to blend different eras and be timeless in her work. She was always fascinated by timelessness.”

What will happen to Schjerfbeck after Royal Academy?

“We think that after this exhibition Schjerfbeck will not only be known within the art sphere but also by wider audience. Amongst art professionals Schjerbeck is already widely known. Her pieces can often be found on the covers of art history books, and she has been the focus of five different PhD theses internationally in the past three years. Schjerfbeck is not yet as well-known as, for example, Edvard Munch but there is no reason she couldn’t become that.”

Helene Schjerfbeck -exhibition The Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries, Burlington Gardens, Royal Academy of Arts, London,  20.7—27.10.2019. https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibition/helene-schjerfbeck

Text: Ninni Lehtniemi Photo: Finnish National Gallery/Yehia Eweis. Helene Schjerfbeck: The Convalescent (1888). Finnish National Gallery/Ateneum Art Museum.

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