EINAR REUTER (STUDY IN BROWN).
Sign. Oil on canvas, 44,4x36,2 cm.
When art dealer Gösta Stenman sold his own art collection in 1914, forester Einar Reuter from Tornio bought his first paintings by Helene Schjerfbeck; The woodcutter (1910-11) and Siblings (1913). Reuter became interested in the artist and started buying more of her work. Sometime later he had become the owner of a considerable collection, but for Reuter it wasn’t enough just to collect Schjerfbeck’s work; he also started writing about her. Under the name H. Ahtela he published several articles about Helene Schjerfbeck and her art. Reuter’s first monograph was published at his own expense in connection with a big Helene Schjerfbeck exhibition organized by Gösta Stenman in 1917. Reuter-Ahtela’s most important life work was, however, the extensive biography Helene Schjerfbeck, published in Finnish in 1951 and in Swedish in 1953.
Einar Reuter visited Helene Schjerfbeck for the first time in 1915, when Schjerfbeck was living with her mother in Hyvinkää, where the two ladies had moved in 1912. At the time of his visit, Reuter had already purchased two more works by Schjerfbeck; Girl with a blue bow (1909) and The Medicis’ daughter (1907). Usually Helene Schjerfbeck disapproved of this type of visit, but this time she found herself in the company of someone who understood her. To her friend, the artist Ada Thilén she wrote that the forester seemed to be a charming and uncomplicated man, familiar with modern art. Helene Schjerfbeck felt that she had met someone with whom she could freely discuss art, a soul mate who was on the same wavelength. The difference in age between them; Schjerfbeck was 52 years old when they first met, and Einar Reuter only 33, didn’t prevent them from developing a close friendship.
After their first meeting, Reuter’s visits became the most important event in Schjerfbeck’s life, a welcome distraction from the monotony of a small town like Hyvinkää. They had started a correspondence that was to last until the artist’s death in 1946. Helene Schjerfbeck had also given Reuter two paintings to add to his collection, The red head I (1915) and Red apples (1915), these gifts were her way of thanking him for the joy that his friendship gave her. Although Schjerfbeck didn´t live isolated from the world, she often missed a more artistic environment. She was only sporadically in touch with other artists and not even her closest “artist sisters” Helena Westermarck and Maria Wiik shared her fascination with the work of early modernists such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh or Paul Gauguin. Einar Reuter, on the other hand, had become familiar with these artists on his travels in Germany and France.
Helene Schjerfbeck called Einar Reuter “The woodsman” because of his profession but also due to his love of hiking in Lapland. Reuter was also, however, a dedicated amateur painter whose simplified technique was clearly inspired by Schjerfbeck’s work. She, in turn, took great interest in her friend’s paintings and together with Bernhard Häkli., who later became an important furniture manufacturer, they founded the group Vapaat (The free). On two occasions, in 1920 and again in 1924, the group exhibited their work in Helsinki. Vapaat had been Einar Reuter’s idea and it was dissolved when his artistic ambition died. After 1923, he didn’t paint anything for more than twenty years. The group got very bad reviews, of course with the exception of Helene Schjerfbeck, “the soul of the group”, and this was probably why Reuter decided to give up painting. The artistic bond between them was something that Schjerfbeck cherished, and she found it hard to accept his decision.
Einar Reuter had already experienced a deep, artistic crisis in 1917, which led him to destroy several of his paintings. reuter’s depression coincided with the exhibition that Gösta Stenman had arranged for Helene Schjerfbeck the same year, and which had reawakened interest in her work. Schjerfbeck tried to encourage Reuter to paint; after the civil war ended in 1918, they spent a couple of weeks painting together in Ekenäs. For Helene Schjerfbeck this shared experience was a dream come true since poor health had, for several years, restricted her travels. These weeks in Ekenäs with her friend, reminded her of the years that she had spent in Paris as a young woman. Some of this lightness of spirit has been captured in the photograph of Helene Schjerfbeck in front of her easel in Parkstigen in Ekenäs.
At this time, Schjerfbeck’s feelings for Einar Reuter went beyond those of mere friendship. Her friend represented everything that was beautiful, good and wise in a man, feelings that are evident in the portraits that she painted of him. One of them, executed 1915-18 , was in Reuter´s possession. In this portrait the sitter’s clear, almost radiant brow dominates the composition and creates the impression of a man who is capable only of bright and important thoughts. Reuter’s engagement to Tyra Arp, whom he had met in Sweden, came as a severe shock; Helene Schjerfbeck felt as if her whole life had derailed and as a consequence she suffered from a long spell of ill health. Despite the fact that Reuter later pointed out that their relationship had been ‘platonic’, Helene Schjerfbeck’s feelings for him were strong and deep . These feelings became more evident after his engagement had been announced and the relationship between Einar and Helene changed; some of the easy spontaneity was lost but they developed a more intimate relationship. His marriage the previous year may have been the reason why Einar Reuter gave up painting in 1923, only to return to this passion at a much later date.
Einar Reuter came from an old, Swedish speaking family but had attended a Finnish school, therefore his Finnish identity was very strong and, being completely bilingual, he wrote in Finnish. With Helene Schjerfbec who spoke no Finnish, he had always communicated in Swedish. Reuter’s preference for the Finnish language created a dilemma when Schjerfbeck was unable to read what Reuter had written about her in Finnish. She found this complicated, accepted it but was afraid of what he would write about her. When the first monograph was published in 1917, Helene Schjerfbeck wrote to Reuter, expressing some of her feelings:
‘..Have you really spent your time on a book about me…’ . She told Helena Westermarck that the book made her nervous, but at the same time she was ‘..Grateful for his empathy..’.
In his articles and books about her, Reuter-Ahtela laid the foundations for the views that very long held about Schjerfbeck as a person and as an artist. Reuter created the myth about a frail and lonely hermit who spent her life lost in her own vision of beauty, isolated from real life and living only for and through her art. This picture of her had little in common with Schjerfbeck’s own perception of her life. She never saw herself as a deprived, saintly cripple who had meekly resigned herself to her fate. On the contrary, she felt that she had lived a stormy life. Helene Schjerfbeck always resolutely fought against ‘..This aura of spirituality..’ that people seemed to want to impute to her. The art dealer Gösta Stenman, who represented her, tended to share the artist’s perception of herself.
The correspondence between Helene Schjerfbeck and Einar Reuter continued after Schjerfbeck had moved to Saltsjöbaden, where she spent the last years of her life, but during the later years the tone of the letters changed. At the end of her life, Schjerfbeck was no longer afraid to talk about the fundamental differences in their approach to life and she assumed that an artist’s life of poverty and hardship would never have sufficed for Reuter. She was rather disappointed that Einar Reuter never became the perfect artist friend that she had dreamt about, despite him having been one of the foremost advocates of her art.
Einar Reuter's private collection, after that in the family.
Helene Schjerfbeck Memorial Exhibition Kunsthalle Helsinki 1954,Helene Schjerbeck Ateneum 1992.
H. Ahtela 1953, no 431; Ateneum, Helsinki 1992, no. 254.