Gill Crabbe, FNG Research
The Helene Schjerfbeck exhibitions in London and Helsinki are a result of extensive international collaboration between the researchers, curators and the two institutions involved. Chief Curator of the Ateneum Art Museum Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff discusses the research processes, preparations and the themes that emerged for the two shows with Gill Crabbe
In 2018, when the Chief Curator of the Ateneum Art Museum Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff travelled to the UK to undertake new research in preparation for the Helene Schjerfbeck exhibition at London’s Royal Academy of Arts, she was keen to visit St Ives in Cornwall, as Schjerfbeck had done in the 1880s. Among other things von Bonsdorff hoped to find out whether any of the works known to have been sold in England, but whose whereabouts were currently unknown, might come to light.
‘This is the period in Schjerfbeck’s career that we don’t know so much about,’ she explains, ‘so it was a great opportunity to collaborate with the Royal Academy’s curator, Desiree de Chair, and really get to know more about the artist’s time in St Ives.’ Von Bonsdorff in fact spent two months in the UK alongside her counterparts at the RA, as part of her research for the exhibition, which has now travelled back to Finland to be presented in an expanded version at the Ateneum Art Museum. She was enabled by an innovative and generous professional development scheme in which the Finnish National Gallery provides opportunities for staff to work for an extended period in a museum or cultural institution abroad. ‘London is a very international scene, so for us it was important to be able to show Helene Schjerfbeck there – and like Jeremy Lewison, who curated the show with us, said, the RA is a perfect place to show Schjerfbeck.’
Von Bonsdorff travelled to Cornwall with Desiree de Chair, who was researching for the essay on the St Ives period for the catalogue. ‘I wanted to find out more about the times when Schjerfbeck was travelling and building her career,’ says von Bonsdorff. ‘We were there in March, at the same time of year that Schjerfbeck was there, to see the places where she was living, drawing and painting. St Ives has this extraordinary luminous light, steep streets and very particular air and atmosphere.’ While there, von Bonsdorff was struck by the primroses in bloom, as Schjerfbeck had used the flower as a motif in The Girl from St Ives (Redhead), from 1890. It is the only painting that the artist signed as being from St Ives, although at least 12 of her known paintings come from her time spent there.
Featured image: Helene Schjerfbeck, Cypresses, Fiesole, 1894, oil on canvas, 43.5cm x 62.5cm, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen
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