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Helsinki Winter Sale presents "The Letter" by Helene Schjerfbeck

Helene Schjerfbeck "The Letter"

Estimate: 450 000 - 500 000 EUR

Bukowskis ongoing online auction presents an exceptional work by Helene Schjerfbeck, one of Finland's most beloved and internationally acclaimed artists.


In "The Letter" Schjerfbeck has created a fascinating snapshot, in which the tension is evoked by the mysterious, barely discernible smile of Olga Schjerfbeck, as well as the patient peasant girl, whose posture gives the impression of a certain excitement. The tension is amplified by the dramatic red tablecloth and the beautiful light of the painting.

– Johan Wulff, Head specialist Finnish Art

Provenance: The brother of the artist architect Magnus Schjerfbeck; Director N.M. Friberg, Stockholm; Present owner.

The fact that "The Letter" came into the possession of the architect Magnus Schjerfbeck is probably because the elderly woman reading the letter in the painting represents Helene’s and Magnus's mother, Olga Schjerfbeck. At the exhibition in Turku, the painting was titled "Orlofssedel", while at the exhibition at Stenman's Art Salon in 1917, the painting was named "The Messenger". Later, in Schjerfbeck's first biographies, the name was changed to "The Letter".

In the early 1890s, Schjerfbeck painted genre paintings and interiors with people in an attempt to broaden the varieties in her motifs, and thus better meet the expectations of the public. The largest of these interior paintings is "The Letter". The reviewer of the Åbo Underrättelser-newspaper dated 13.4.1894 considered the painting's greatest merit to be the personal expression of the characters' faces, but he partly missed a more precise reproduction of details.

For today's viewer, the most interesting aspect of the work is its colour scheme in relation to Schjerfbeck's other works in the naturalistic style. The red tablecloth in the foreground dominates and defines the space. With the help of the coffee service and the sheer crocheted antimacassar on the armchair, Schjerfbeck manages to create a homely atmosphere in a confined space. The details are mainly depicted in a deliberately diffuse manner, except for the antimacassar, where the clarity appears as if focused on a camera lens. The letter-reading, black-clad Olga Schjerfbeck is the painting's clear centerpiece, while the little peasant girl in the doorway gives the painting's motif its narrative element. The interior's pale, beautiful general lighting recalls the Nordic winter light.

Text: Leena Ahtola-Moorhouse

The work is for sale at Bukowskis' ongoing online auction Helsinki Winter Sale. Auction ends on Sunday, November 27, place your bid already today.

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Johan Wulff
Johan Wulff
Head Specialist Art
+358 (0)50 410 1377