A major exhibition of the Finnish painter Helene Schjerfbeck will open at the Royal Academy this week. Chief curator Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff from Ateneum Art Museum in Finland hopes the exhibition will lead into discovery of Schjerfbeck’s missing paintings sold in the UK in her life-time.

Von Bonsdorff has been collaborating with the Royal Academy of Art in building their Schjerfbeck exhibition. She knows Schjerfbeck sold at least two paintings while she was working in the artist colony in St Ives in late 1880’s. 
“The current whereabouts of these paintings are not known.”

According to von Bonsdorff exhibitions of larger scale often lead to discoveries of lost art work. When people get exposed to works of a certain painter they might start looking around them with fresh eyes. 

Schjerfbeck will be presented in the Royal Academy of Arts until October 27th, so it is very possible that someone will notice they have one of her paintings on their wall, says von Bonsdorff. 
“That would be truly exciting.”

Ateneum Arts Museum is the National Gallery in Finland, which means that recognising, validating and documenting paintings by important Finnish artists is part of their mission. 
“It is like a treasure hunt sometimes,” says von Bonsdorff who has experienced some major discoveries during her career. 

When the Finnish master Pekka Halonen’s (1865–1933) retrospective was exhibited in Ateneum, the museum called the public to join the hunt for his lost paintings. An advertisement was put in Finland’s largest newspaper Helsingin Sanomat. It was known that many paintings by Halonen being privately owned, and perhaps not even identified as his. 
“As a result we were contacted by hundreds of private owners,” says von Bonsdorff. 

Von Bonsdorff has also once received the phone call she is hoping for now. An elderly woman in Helsinki suddenly realized the initials H.S. on a previously unidentified painting might refer to Helene Schjerfbeck. They did indeed. 
“It felt amazing. In Finland and many parts of the world Schjerfbeck is in great demand at the moment.”

So if you happen to notice that a painting on your wall has a signature H. Schjerfbeck or H.S. please contact Ateneum Art Museum or us here at The Finnish Institute in London.

Text: Emilie Gardberg Photo: Ninni Lehtniemi


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