Important Winter Sale: Helene Schjerfbeck, ”Woman with pale red mouth”
”Kvinna med blekröd mun”
The lot in the auction, ’Kvinna med blekröd mun’, was part of the collection of the art dealer Gösta Stenman (1888-1947) and is labelled with his archival number 3646. Stenman was a prominent figure in modern art dealing in Finland and Sweden. Inspired by artistic circles in Paris, and being a true entrepreneur and patron, he opened his first ‘Stenman Art Salon’ in Helsinki in 1919. Stenman has primarily come to be associated with the rediscovery of Helene Schjerfbeck. He was firmly convinced of Schjerfbeck’s uniqueness and built his own collection of her work. Her first solo show took place in Helsinki as early as 1917. During the interwar period Stenman moved his art salon from Helsinki to Stockholm, and, in 1937, achieved great success when he launched Schjerfbeck onto a Swedish audience. The artist was 75 years old at that time, and this was her second solo exhibition. Stenman was also the one who encouraged Schjerfbeck to rework and reinterpret her older pieces. With these works, she pursued simplification to an almost spiritual plane.
He had previously commissioned several reinterpreted works by her at the end of the 1920s, which had improved the artist’s economic situation.
After her mother’s death in 1925 Helene Schjerfbeck relocated to the larger town of Ekenäs, west of Helsinki. There she kept to herself and, due to a lack of models, at first mostly painted landscapes and some still lifes. She continued to study older paintings and came to be especially interested in the work of El Greco. Her own distinctive interpretations were based on illustrations from books and magazines.
Included in the Ateneum Art Museum’s 1992 catalogue is the piece Ungdom (Modern Schoolgirl), oil on canvas, entered as no. 367. The portrait was executed in 1928 and the young girl is depicted in half-length. The model appears to be the same as in the present watercolour portrait, Kvinna med blekröd mun. In Ungdom the pensive schoolgirl is seated with her gaze turned away from the viewer. The subject is steeped in warm light and from the soft outlines of her face there emanates a spirituality that is set in contrast to the distinctive green details of her shirt. In the present auction lot, it is the face and the slender neck that are in focus, similar to El Greco’s portraits. The shadows are unusually marked and blackened, juxtaposed with the girl’s white complexion that is heightened with white. The shapes are simplified, the palette is strict and the expression is almost matter-of-fact. The watercolour in the auction is a stand-alone work, and we don’t know whether it was made before the oil painting or if this is a later reworking of an earlier piece. What is noticeable, however, is that the paper has been previously worked on and that Schjerfbeck has then changed certain lines and added new ones. The signature at the model’s left temple was originally placed above her shoulder.
To be sold at Important Winter Sale December 8–10.
Viewing December 2 – 7, Berzelii Park 1, Stockholm.
Open Mon–Fri 11 am–6 pm, Sat–Sun 11 am–5 pm.
Auction Live December 8 – 10, Arsenalsgatan 2, Stockholm.
* Due to new recommendations, Bukowskis kindly asks you to show proof of Covid-19 vaccination from December 1st onwards at indoor events with more than 100 guests. Please take note of this before viewing the Important Winter Sale.