Helene Schjerfbeck (1862–1946) is a Finnish national icon.
Talented and widely travelled, Schjerfbeck found artistic success at a young age. In the 1880s she connected with artists’ colonies in Pont Aven, Brittany and St. Ives, Cornwall.
Schjerfbeck lived through some of the most seismic shifts in modern art, from Impressionism to Surrealism. But she was never one to follow the crowd and forged her own path. She drew inspiration everywhere from Old Master paintings to contemporary fashion magazines – and in the process she developed her own distinctive, expressive style. Her work defies categorization and she is often seen as a “painter’s painter” – someone who constantly experimented with techniques, and was willing to push and take risks rather than repeat past successes.
In her later years, she left the Finnish capital for a quieter life that allowed her to concentrate on her work. Nonetheless, keeping in touch with artist friends and the seismic shifts in modern art, she produced some of her most raw and radically abstracted paintings in these years.