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Helene Schjerfbeck: Red Apples, 1915


A bowlful of red apples in summer sunshine, with the hortensia flowers that Schjerfbeck loved in a silver vase in the background. This is a still life full of bright, sensual, glowing colours. One apple has fallen onto the tablecloth, which is bathed in light, as if to underline the abundance depicted.

Amid the red apples, there is a single green one, its complementary colour contrasting with the red. Similarly, the violet behind heightens the yellow colour of the orange. To counterbalance the dark background, the foreground is a soft bright white that has been compared to newly fallen snow.  The colours acquire their full power through these contrasts.

Helene Schjerfbeck painted still lifes throughout her exceptionally long, 70-year career. Her portraits and other figure paintings always called for interaction between painter and model, but in a still life she could concentrate on purely painterly problems and their solution. In the still lifes she produced in the 1910s Schjerfbeck made much freer use of colour. From merely depicting her subject, she began increasingly to study and bring out the individual essence of the colours themselves. The main role came to be played by the material reality of the paint as a physical substance, its intensity, thickness, thinness and structure.

In Red Apples Schjerfbeck totally subordinates graphic considerations and even the subjects themselves to the colours and light. She also uses a new technique, spreading the pigment with a palette knife. This thickly spread paint parallels the expressive power of the colour.

Red Apples was the first work acquired for the Ateneum out of a fund established in connection with a major gift to the Museum of the art collection of Yrjö and Nanny Kaunisto. In itself this gift included 35 works by Schjerfbeck.