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Helene Schjerfbeck

(Finland, 1862-1946)
Helene Schjerfbeck
(Finland, 1862-1946)

Helene Schjerfbeck, "Vain Woman"

Signed HS. Executed in 1935. Oil on canvas 41.5 x 44.5 cm.

Wear due to age and use. Slight crazing.


Mrs Ghitta Grönblom, Helsinki; private collection.


"Helene Schjerfbeck", Exhibition in Stockholm, autumn 1937, no.36 (incorrect title in the catalogue).
"Helene Schjerfbeck", solo exhibition at Eskilstuna Art Museum, February-March 1938.
"Helene Schjerfbeck", Stenmans Art Salon, Stockholm 1958, no.29.
"Helene Schjerfbeck Tribute Exhibition 1862—1962", Stenmans Art Salon, Stockholm 1962, no. 46.
Galerie Hörhammer 1972, Helsinki, no. 103.


H. Ahtela, "Helena Schjerfbeck", Helsinki, 1953, no. 535.

More information

Helene Schjerfbeck used several different models, often already imbued with a preconception of the individual to be depicted. Impressions could be linked to a character encountered in a novel or inspired by admiration for another artist's solutions and expressions, yet almost always the model's own charisma and features also emerged in some manner. This is evident when comparing the numerous depictions of her nephew Måns, each distinct yet bearing recognizable traits.

Regarding the painting of the vain woman, the model's character was so strong that Schjerfbeck found herself swept along by it, at least that is what she wrote to her friend Einar Reuter on 1 September 1935: "...I've had a model, 'a vain woman,' she is comical, must be painted as such." Thanks to this quote from the letter, we can now precisely date the painting, which previously in Ahtela's records had been vaguely dated to the 1910s.

We may never know precisely what made the woman vain and comical, but judging by how Schjerfbeck chose to depict the model's hairstyle, attire, stern countenance, and excessively red, asymmetrical cheeks, we can infer that the woman had, so to speak, dressed up for the modelling session. The portrait was not a commissioned work, but the model evidently wanted to pose in the best possible manner for Schjerfbeck. Nonetheless, the result is an immediate portrait of a red-cheeked woman in a tense state of mind. One finds excessively red cheeks in several of Schjerfbeck's portraits; she herself suffered from easily flushed cheeks.

The color palette in "Vain Woman" is warm and imbued with a positive mood, indicating the artist's accepting attitude toward her model. What stands out are the diffuse forms, as if the model couldn't sit still calmly. A typical detail in the composition for the artist is the white spot near the woman's ear.

The work is one of Scherfbeck's most expressive portraits.

Text: Leena Ahtola-Moorhouse

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