Helene Schjerfbeck’s Self-portrait 1912 is Ateneum’s major acquisition of the year

Helene Schjerfbeck: Self-Portrait, 1912. Ateneum Art Museum, coll. Kaunisto. © Kuvasto. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

Ateneum Art Museum, which forms part of the Finnish National Gallery, has acquired artist Helene Schjerfbeck’s Self-Portait from 1912 for its collections. Schjerfbeck painted this forcefully expressive self-portrait the same year she turned 50. The work has now been acquired for Ateneum with funding from the Yrjö and Nanny Kaunisto Fund, which is a part of the Finnish Cultural Foundation. It is currently on display in the Stories of Finnish Art exhibition, which opened in March.

Ateneum Art Museum holds the world’s largest collection of Helene Schjerfbeck’s (1862–1946) art. The earliest works date from Schjerfbeck’s youth, while her later works represent the aging artist’s fearless approach to painting. The museum also holds an extensive collection of Schjerfbeck’s sketchbooks, which give a fascinating insight into the stages of development of her works.

“The 1912 Self-Portrait challenges the viewer to ponder on the great questions of our existence and identity. Her expression is powerful and the use of colour almost fierce, for a work by Schjerfbeck. The painting is a welcome and valuable addition to the existing series of self-portraits in the collection,” says Susanna Pettersson, Museum Director.

Pettersson considers it essential that Ateneum is able to grow its collection with major works of national importance. In 2015, such acquisitions included Hugo Simberg’s Towards the evening (1913) and Robert Wilhelm Ekman’s Pentti Lyytinen recites poems in a cottage in Savo (1848).

It is important that the museum has supporting funding instruments besides the annual acquisition budget that aid in acquiring key pieces to the national collection.

“Works that are significant for the collection often appear on the market at short notice and we have to be able to react quickly. The Kaunisto Fund is a great example of what can be achieved through interest income from donated funds,” Pettersson says.

Self-Portrait (1912) also complements the Kaunisto Schjerfbeck Collection, which now comprises 35 works. Yrjö and Nanny Kaunisto, a doctor couple who lived in Helsinki, built up an exceptionally impressive art collection during their lifetime. In 2004, the entire collection of 78 works was added to Ateneum’s collection as a bequest by Nanny Kaunisto. The collection donated by the Kaunistos includes several works by Helene Schjerfbeck, including Circus Girl (1916), Singer in Black (1916–17), Girl from California I (1919), Green Apples and Champagne Glass (1934) and Self-Portrait, en face I (1945).

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