Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Ushering in 2014 - 3 Artists that inspire - Carl Larsson - and the journey to his home.

Carl Larsson,  Helene Schjerfbeck and
Akseli Gallen-Kallela

I'm continually inspired by other artists and their work and it is my hope that some day my own work will inspire me at least a percentage of that...not sure if that is possible?  But this alluding goal will at least keep me painting - and hoping...

Today I wanted to share with you the great work of Carl Larsson, as well as the work of Finnish artists Akseli Gallen-Kallela and Helene Schjerfbeck.

The last two artists were unknown to me when I stumbled upon them and their artwork on my visit to the Carl Larsson Exhibit "Friends and Enemies" at NationalMuseum in Stockholm with my sister.

But first - Carl Larsson's home

I grew up in Sweden and this past summer on our visit back I had somehow managed to convince my family to take an extended road-trip thru Sweden on our way up north, so that I could finally squeeze in a visit to the home and studio of Carl Larsson in Sundborn, Dalarna.

To make up for this somewhat selfish artist quest ...I thought staying at a farm and experiencing the joy of being close to nature and animals, re-creating that idyllic Swedish child-hood I experienced and grew up reading about in Astrid Lindgren's books, would deeply enrich the trip for the kids.

This all back-fired when my 7-year old was stung by a honey bee right under his eye on our second day there - We've since found out that it's the only insect he is allergic to.  So, at the end of two days the half side of his face would swell up and his eye swell shut.  (It all ended with a doctor's visit and a lot of cortison after the third day, when we really started worrying about the never-lessening swelling!!)

The visit to Carl Larsson's home took place the day after this dramatic, painful experience.

 Luckily, at that point the swelling hadn't gotten really bad yet, so the kids did end up enjoying the visit. Spending time with their cousins is such a treat and my 4-year old (the budding illustrator) donned a robe and in true Carl Larsson fashion painted his own little master piece.

Carl Larsson 


Carl Larsson - Self-portrait 1906

Anders Zorn is probably the most well-known Swedish Artist, but I've always been fascinated and impressed with Carl Larsson, who was a contemporary of Zorn's.   To me, he's a Swedish Norman Rockwell of sorts, recording Swedish life of that time.  His subject matters included his own family and friends, life in Sundborn, famous writers and high society of the day.   His images adorn many a Swedish home, in prints and calendars, as his illustrative style has been re-printed, loved and commercially successful ever since the time he was alive.
I'm most intrigued by the way he composed and cropped his work, sometimes putting his center of interest, or the action, in a corner or by the edge of the canvas.   I was fascinated to learn that he was inspired, as many other artists of that time, by Japanese woodblock prints.

Söndagsvila (Sunday Rest)

How affirming it is to see that the artists back in the late 1800s just like today, learned and were influenced by their contemporaries and preceding artists.   It makes me feel good to be reminded that we are all connected and learning from each other on this artistic journey.
 Äppelblom  Apple bloom

I was also lucky enough to catch an exhibit of 12 portraits of Carl Larsson's that were on display in a nearby church in Sundborn.  Seeing those portraits in person makes it so much more clear how incredibly technically proficient Larsson also was with his brush strokes, creating beautiful life-like color, light and skin tones in his figurative paintings.   It's something that's not always evident when seen in a reproduction and I really wish I would have been allowed to snap some pictures...

Carl Larsson (1853–1919), Portrait of Poet Erik Axel Karlfeldt, 1918

 Sundborn is such a picturesque little village.  It is no wonder that so much of Carl's work looks so idyllic, being set against that beautiful back-drop of water, birches and the traditional architecture of the region of Dalarna.   He grew up very poor in Stockholm, a city that was very different back then from what it is now.
In his biography "Me" Larsson admits that to him the pictures of his family and home "became the most immediate and lasting part of my life's work. For these pictures are of course a very genuine expression of my personality, of my deepest feelings, of all my limitless love for my wife and children."
 It makes sense that he painted scenes throughout his life that put the focus on the opposite of his early experiences.  I can relate to that wish to focus on the joy and beauty of life in art.

At the entry way of Larsson's home - 4 of his children

No cameras are allowed inside the main building, but you would recognize many of the rooms if you're familiar with his work, as his home has been preserved and looks the same now as it did a hundred years ago.

Decendants of Carl Larsson still live in his home, but parts of it is open for visitors from May to October.  And I would recommend anyone to see Carl Larsson's art in person if you ever have the chance!

At Atenum - The Finnish National Gallery

Helene Schjerfbeck


 1912 Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946) Self Portrait

This is the haunting self portrait by Helene that first caught my eye.   It was painted in 1912 and I was struck by how modern her handling of the paint seems.   It looked to me like it was created by a contemporary artist and not one who lived in the 1800s.   I love the abstract quality, the strong flat shapes and the way the canvas shows thru and we can see the layers of her process.   Using all that black also reminded me of the black liberally used by Carl Larsson in his portraits.

Following is a little more on Helene's life as found on Wikipedia.

Helena Sofia Schjerfbeck was born on 10 July 1862 in Helsinki, Finland (then an autonomous Grand-Duchy within the Russian Empire), to Svante Schjerfbeck (an office manager) and Olga Johanna (née Printz). When she was four she suffered a hip injury, which prevented her from attending school. She showed talent at an early age, and by the time she was eleven she was enrolled at the Finnish Art Society Drawing School, where her fees were paid by Adolf von Becker, who saw promise in her [ref. Ahtola-Moorhouse]. At this School Schjerfbeck met Helena Westermarck.
When Schjerfbeck’s father died of tuberculosis on February 2, 1876, Schjerfbeck’s mother took in boarders so that they could get by. A little over a year after her father’s death, Schjerfbeck graduated from the Finnish Art Society drawing school. She continued her education, with Westermarck, at a private academy run by Adolf von Becker, which utilised the University of Helsinki drawing studio. Professor G. Asp paid for her tuition to Becker’s private academy. There, Becker himself taught her French oil painting techniques.

In 1879, at the age of 17, Schjerfbeck won third prize in a competition organised by the Finnish Art Society, and in 1880 her work was displayed in an annual Finnish Art Society exhibition. That summer Schjerfbeck spent time at a manor owned by her aunt on her mother’s side, Selma Printz, and Selma’s husband Thomas Adlercreutz. There she spent time drawing and painting her cousins. Schjerfbeck became particularly close to her cousin Selma Adlercreutz, who was her age. She set off to Paris later that year after receiving a travel grant from the Imperial Russian Senate.
In Paris, Schjerfbeck painted with Helena Westermarck, then left to study with Léon Bonnat at Mme Trélat de Vigny’s studio. In 1881 she moved to the Académie Colarossi, where she studied once again with Westermarck. The Imperial Senate gave her another scholarship, which she used to spend a couple of months in Meudon, and then a few more months in Concarneau, Brittany. She then went back to the Académie Colarossi briefly, before returning to the Adlercreutz family manor in Finland. Schjerfbeck continued to move around frequently, painting and studying with various people. Schjerfbeck made money by continuing to put her paintings in the Art Society’s exhibitions, and she also did illustrations for books.
 1884 Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946) Naisprofiili

 1884-85 Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946) Self Portrait

In 1884 she was back in Paris at the Académie Colarossi with Westermarck, but this time they were working there. She was given more money to travel by a man from the Finnish Art Society and in 1887 she traveled to St Ives, Cornwall, in Britain. There she painted The Convalescent, which won the bronze medal at the 1889 Paris World Fair.

1888 Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946) The Convalescent
The painting was later bought by the Finnish Art Society. At this period Schjerfbeck was painting in a naturalistic plein-air style.
In the 1890s Schjerfbeck started teaching regularly in Finland at the Art Society drawing school,
 1900 Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946) Girl Reading

"This is also when she simplified her style, eliminating background detail and reducing her palette. These stylistic changes are seen in many of the portraits she painted of herself, her mother, and others. Schjerfbeck’s work shows a highly individual development, transforming gradually from melancholy, late 19th-century academic Realism to her own very personal style tending towards abstract Expressionism displaying perfectly balanced colors." (Barbara Wells Sarudy's blog)
1915 Helene Schjerfbeck, Self-portrait with Black Background

In 1901 she became too ill to teach and in 1902 she resigned her post. She moved to Hyvinkää, all while taking care of her mother who lived with her (the mother died in 1923). While living in Hyvinkää, she continued to paint and exhibit. "Schjerfbeck’s sole contact with the art world was through magazines sent by friends." [ref. Womans’ Art Journal; 14]. Since she did not have art, Schjerfbeck took up hobbies like reading and embroidery.
During this time Schjerbeck produced still lifes and landscapes, as well as portraits, such as that of her mother, local school girls and women workers, and also self-portraits, and she became a modernist painter. Her work has been compared to that of artists such as James McNeill Whistler and Edvard Munch, but from 1905 her paintings took on a character that was hers alone. She continued experimenting with various techniques, e.g., different types of underpaintings.

1916 Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946) Singer in Black

In 1913 Schjerfbeck met the art-dealer, Gösta Stenman, with whose encouragement she exhibited at Malmo in 1914, Stockholm in 1916 and St Petersburg in 1917. In 1917 Stenman organised her first solo exhibition; and in that year Einar Reuter (alias H. Ahtela) published the first Schjerfbeck monograph. Later she exhibited at Copenhagen (1919), Gothenburg (1923) and Stockholm (1934). In 1937 Stenman organised another solo exhibition for her in Stockholm, and in 1938 he began paying her a monthly salary.
As the years passed, Schjerfbeck travelled less. When a family matter arose, such as a death, she would travel back to her home city of Helsinki and she spent most of 1920 in Ekenäs, but by 1921 she was back living in Hyvinkää.

 Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946) Self Portrait

For about a year, Schjerfbeck moved to a farm in Tenala to get away from the Winter War, but went back to Ekenäs in the middle of 1940 [The Finnish National Gallery Ateneum]. She later moved into a nursing home, where she resided for less than a year before moving to the Luontola sanatorium. In 1944 she moved into the Saltsjöbaden spa hotel in Sweden, where she lived until her death on January 23, 1946.

You can see a great progression of Helene's Self Portraits on Barbara Wells Sarudy's blog
where she writes:
Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946) painted at least 36 self-portraits throughout her career. The older she became, the more isolated she became. Her later portraits reveal a sort of visual confrontational self-analysis. Between 1939 & 1945, not long before her death, she produced her most impressive series of self-portraits, in which she records her own physical deterioration with shocking honesty. Her facial features become increasingly hollow, until only the ghost of a skull remains. This uncompromising series of portraits can be intensely emotional for some viewers & just plain frightening for others, especially those who find themselves growing quickly older with each passing day. 

Helene Shjerfbeck has an inspiring body of work to learn from!

Akseli Gallen-Kallela  

1865 - 1931

Seeblick (1901)
The 3rd artist I wanted to mention is a Finnish artist I had never heard about when I saw this picture of his artwork on the cover of a book at the gift store of National Museum in Stockholm.   It perfectly captures what I find so beautiful in a summer night on the water in Scandinavia!

With the help of the girl working there we both spent some time trying to figure out the name of the artist who created this work and I wanted to share it here so that anyone who is inspired can learn more about him and his work.

Akseli Gallen-Kallela on  Wikipedia

Happy 2014!!  

I hope you fill it with creativity!
And if you want to keep some inspiration close by I still have a few more calendars left with some of my favorite work and inspirational quotes on creativity for each month:-)

$15.00 includes shipping
Just send me an email if you're interested