Jeremy Lewison was the lead curator of the Helene Schjerfbeck exhibition that opened on 20 July at the Royal Academy, London.
This is the first Schjerfbeck survey to be shown in the United Kingdom and was proposed by Lewison to the Royal Academy as a co-operation between the Royal Academy and the Ateneum, Finnish National Gallery. With 65 paintings and two drawings it is a survey of Schjerfbeck’s work from the early 1880s, which she pent in Paris and Pont-Aven Paris, to her final two years in Sweden.
Born in 1862 and dying in 1946, Schjerfbeck lived through a turbulent period of history and one of rapid and revolutionary changes in art, yet kept her own course. In addition to a wide range of portraits and still life, there are a small number of early landscapes, but the highlight of the show is a series of twenty self-portraits arranged in chronological order that chart the ageing process as well as Schjerfebck’s vivid imagination.
The exhibition has been attracting very positive reivews. Laura Cumming, in the Observer, writes: ‘It would be hard to think of a more overdue subject for a show than the Finnish artist Helene Schjerfbeck’. Describing her as an ‘astonishing talent’ with ‘a strong sense of ... singularity’ Cumming praises the ‘judicious’ selection of the works and considers the gallery of self-portraits as ‘superbyly presented’. Rachel Campbell-Johnson, in the Times, tells readers that they are in for ‘a wonderfully striking surprise’ and describes the room of self-portraits as ‘utterly riveting’. She concludes that ‘the series ... ranks among the most extraordinary depictions of self in art history’. Mark Hudson, in the Telegraph describes them as a ‘hair-raising sequence of paintings’ within a ‘fascinating show’ while Melanie McDonagh, in the Standard claims that the exhibition is an ‘overdue tribute to a very considerable artist.’
Click here to read more about Helene Schjerfbeck.
Lewison also contributed the principal essay in the catalogue, ‘Mirror and Mask’, and wrote the section introductions.
An all day symposium about Schjerfbeck’s work will be held at the Royal Academy on Friday 27 September and Jeremy Lewison will be giving a lecture at the RA on 13 September at 11 am.
The show continues until 27 October.