Helene Schjerfbeck, The Royal Academy - ★★★★☆ - Until October 27, 2019


Famous in Finland, but not well known outside of her native country, this is the first major show of Schjerfbeck's work in Britain. It traces the development of the artist's style from the early, beautifully executed naturalistic works to a later more abstract approach. Schjerfbeck knew the works of the old masters well, and her own paintings acknowledge their influence, but this show beautifully traces the development of her own artistic path. The thoughtful curation brings out the haunting themes of her work, and the increasing emphasis on the interior reality of her subjects. Depiction increasingly gives way to expression. There is a cool sense of isolation that pervades her work and it is beautifully demonstrated in the second section of the exhibition Sounds of Silence. There may be an echo of Whistler in her portraits of her mother, but these works are very different in tone and their emotional impact. But for us, it is the series of self-portraits that stand out. These seventeen works become increasingly abstract as they unflinchingly reflect the ravages of time and the aging process. The painter's eyes which had captured her world gradually disappear in her stoic contemplation of the human condition. These works alone establish Schjerfbeck's place in the great tradition of western art and are worth the visit to this outstanding exhibition celebrating an under-appreciated artist.

Reviewed by J.C.

 Our Score:  ☆☆☆☆★ 

WHEN, WHERE, GETTING THERE:
Until October 27, 2019
Daily: 10 am - 6 pm (Friday until 10 pm)
The Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries, Royal Academy
Nearest tube: Piccadilly Circus

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