Through My Travels I Found Myself

Helene Schjerfbeck: Girls Reading (1907). Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen.

Helene Schjerfbeck

The exhibition describes how Helene Schjerfbeck became Helene, and how a talented student grew into one of the most influential artists in our history. The exhibition focuses specifically on Schjerfbeck’s years of travel, during which she stayed in Paris, Pont-Aven in northern France, Fiesole in Italy, and St Ives in England at the end of the 19th century.

Café Ateneum | Guided tours | Events | 5 things to know

LOCATION: THIRD FLOOR

What was the importance of travel for her work and working methods – and how did it influence her art when she returned to her home country? The exhibition also includes works that have not previously been shown in Finland.

The works in the exhibition include landscapes, still lifes, and depictions of people who were important to the artist. The exhibition also includes 16 of Schjerfbeck’s self-portraits from the period between 1884 and 1945, presented in a chronological order, which makes for an interesting viewing experience. In total, the exhibition features some 130 paintings, drawings and sketchbooks.

An exhibition of works by Helene Schjerfbeck (1862–1946) was shown at the Royal Academy of Arts in London until 27 October 2019. The exhibition was the first comprehensive overview of Schjerfbeck’s work in the UK. The exhibition that Finns get to see at the Ateneum will be more than twice the size of the one staged in London. It is curated by Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, chief curator at the Ateneum.

Read more from the exhibition’s press release

Café Ateneum

Take a breather at Café Ateneum during your exhibition visit! Café Ateneum is located on the third floor of the museum for the duration of the exhibitions from 15 November 2019 to 26 January 2020, serving savoury and sweet snacks, including Helene pastries. The café is fully licensed.

While the exhibitions are on, the café will be open from 11:00 until the museum closes. The café is designed in cooperation with the Antiikkiliike Risto Muuri antique shop and the Järvenpään Kukkatalo florist shop.

Note! Due to the location of the café, admission is only for those who have bought a museum ticket. The café accepts reservations for parties of up to 20 people. Reservations: ateneum@soupster.com, tel. +358 40 563 8430

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Guided Tours

Get more out of your exhibition visit by ordering a guided tour or an exhibition intro!

For groups
During exhibition intro, a guide presents both exhibitions in the museum auditorium with the help of audiovisual materials. Guided tours for this exhibition are held outside museum’s opening hours. Read more about private tours and exhibition intros

For individuals
Free exhibition intros in English are on even-numbered weeks on Sundays at 12:00.

Schools
Read more about the services and materials produced for schools. 

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Events

Helene Schjerfbeck lecture: Jeremy Lewison
Sat 16 Nov, 12:00 Ateneum Hall. The Mirror and the Mask. In English. Read more

Check all the events at our events calendar

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The partners of the exhibition

 Scandic

Helene Schjerfbeck: Self-Portrait, 1884-1885. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, coll. Friends of Ateneum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Henri Tuomi

Helene Schjerfbeck: Self-Portrait, 1884-1885. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, coll. Friends of Ateneum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Henri Tuomi

Helene Schjerfbeck: five things to know

She was a childhood prodigy who overcame family tragedy

Schjerfbeck’s talent was recognised when she was just 11 years old and she began attending art school. Her family could only afford to educate one of their children (her brother Magnus), but luckily her tutors believed in her potential and she was offered a full scholarship. When she was just 13, her father died from tuberculosis and her family fell further into poverty. But Schjerfbeck continued to receive funding, and by the age of 18, she was studying art in Paris on a trip paid for by the Finnish Government.

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Helene Schjerfbeck Girl from California, detail (1919)

Helene Schjerfbeck Girl from California, detail (1919). Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, coll. Kaunisto. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

She was independent and a risk taker

Schjerfbeck lived through some of the most seismic shifts in modern art, from Impressionism to Surrealism. But she was never one to follow the crowd and forged her own path. She drew inspiration everywhere from Old Master paintings to contemporary fashion magazines – and in the process she developed her own distinctive, expressive style. Her work defies categorisation and she is often seen as a “painter’s painter” – someone who constantly experimented with techniques, and was willing to push and take risks rather than repeat past successes.

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Helene Schjerfbeck: Cypresses, Fiesole (1894). Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen.

Helene Schjerfbeck: Cypresses, Fiesole (1894). Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen.

She travelled widely throughout Europe

Schjerfbeck lived with limited mobility after a childhood fall that broke her hip. Despite the barriers this would have posed to her, she travelled widely during her younger years, making trips to Vienna, St Petersburg, Florence, Paris and St Ives. While in England, her work was exhibited already in 1889 in a gallery on Piccadilly in London, close to where the Royal Academy of Arts still stands today. Schjerfbeck’s travels helped shape her unique style and she drew on everything she saw in Europe once back home in rural Finland. Although she wasn’t able to travel later in life, she never stopped painting. When she died in 1946 she had devoted more than 70 years to her art.

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Helene Schjerfbeck: Self-Portrait, Black Background, detail (1919)

Helene Schjerfbeck: Self-Portrait, Black Background, detail (1919). Finnish National Gallery/Ateneum Art Museum, The Hallonblad Collection. Photo: Finnish National Gallery/Yehia Eweis.

She was never afraid to take a long, hard look in the mirror

Schjerfbeck created self-portraits throughout her life but in her final two years, she drew and painted her own face more than 20 times, seemingly fascinated with the physical and psychological process of ageing. As she commented in a letter to a friend, “this way the model is always available, although it isn’t always pleasant to see oneself.” These later works show a move towards radically abstracted figuration that foreshadowed the portraiture of Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach.

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Helene Schjerfbeck: The Teacher, detail (1933)

Helene Schjerfbeck: The Teacher, detail (1933). Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, coll. Kaunisto. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

She was fascinated by fashion

Schjerfbeck became interested in fashion while studying in Paris in the 1880s. Her portraits were inspired by the fluctuating aesthetics of fashion, the changing silhouettes, and the bold colours of made-up faces. Dora Estlander, the daughter of Schjerfbeck’s cousin, became the artist’s muse, with whom she could discuss fashion, while Schjerfbeck’s nephew, Måns, got to sit as a model for many of her dandy portraits. Indeed, Schjerfbeck managed to reproduce the sense of the material of the clothes worn by her models in a unique way. After returning to Finland, Schjerfbeck continued to subscribe to French fashion magazines, and she was particularly fascinated by the garçonne, or the flapper, the new type of woman of the 1920s.

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Press releases

Natalia Goncharova’s exhibition to introduce the pioneer of “everythingism”

An exhibition of Natalia Goncharova’s work will be shown on the third floor of the Ateneum Art Museum from 27 February to 17 May 2020. Natalia Goncharova (1881–1962) is known as a central figure in Russian avant-garde art, inspiring experimental artists in both Russia…

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