The history of Finnish art is somewhat unusual. Since the 19th century, there have been more women who have made successful careers as artists in Finland than elsewhere in Europe. Considering how brief the history of fine art painting is in Finland, and how few truly great artists such a small country can produce, it’s remarkable how many women are among them. One of my favorites is Helene Schjerfbeck, who painted from the 1880s to the 1940s.
Schjerfbeck started out as a naturalist, painting lifelike scenes and portraits from the countryside of France, where she was studying.
Over the years her paintings gradually became starker, more simplified, until in the end they had become minimalized abstractions of people and things that nevertheless feel somehow “realistic” in their use of light and proportion. Throughout her career, Schjerfbeck had a knack for juxtaposing deep blacks on a pale background for dramatic effect.
Here are some more paintings.