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Sotheby's to offer still life masterpiece from Helene Schjerfbeck's late period
Helene Schjerfbeck, Lemons in a Wooden Bowl. Estimated at £300,000-500,000. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- For Helene Schjerfbeck, still life was the perfect conduit through which to distil simplicity of form and expression. Begun in 1934 but not completed until ten years later, Lemons in a Wooden Bowl, a masterpiece from Schjerfbeck’s late period, comes to auction for the first time in its history, in a sale of 19th Century European Paintings at Sotheby’s in London on 16 December 2015. Estimated at £300,000-500,000, the painting belongs to an important series of pure still lifes of single pieces of fruit or bowls of fruit.

Claude Piening, Head of Department, 19th Century European Paintings, Sotheby’s London, said: “We are thrilled to announce that our December sale will include a fourth important work by Helene Schjerfbeck, consigned from another private collection. It complements Girl with Blonde Hair, The Fencer, and Flaxen-Haired Boy already in the sale. Together these four works chart Schjerfbeck’s career from her early youth to her final years, and exemplify her radical modernist style.”
With her life becoming ever more solitary, Schjerfbeck discovered the expressive potential of inanimate objects in her immediate surroundings. In Lemons in a Wooden Bowl, the brightly-coloured subject emerges from a flattened, almost abstracted space, as Schjerfbeck explores the colour harmonies of the exotic lemons held within the altogether more Finnish masur birch bowl.

As her health weakened in her final years, Schjerfbeck received continued pleas from her dealer Gösta Stenman to move to Sweden, which she finally did in February 1944. The artist would live out the rest of her life at the Saltsjöbaden spa hotel south-east of Stockholm, where it is likely Lemons in a Wooden Bowl was completed in 1944.

Acquired from the artist by Stenman, in whose collection the painting remained after Schjerfbeck’s death, Lemons in a Wooden Bowl was exhibited in the artist's lifetime and went on to feature in some sixteen of landmark Schjerfbeck exhibitions, beginning with the Artek gallery exhibition in Helsinki just three months after her death; in the U.S.A. and Canada in 1949-53; at the 1956 Venice Biennale, where Schjerfbeck's work represented Finland; and most recently at the major retrospective of her work in Helsinki and Gothenburg in 2012-13.

Sotheby’s will present for sale three further works by Schjerfbeck at the 19th Century European Paintings auction in December: Girl with Blond Hair, The Fencer, and Flaxen-Haired Boy. Separate press release available here.

All four works will be on view to the public in Helsinki on 17 November at Galerie Donner (Merikatu 1).

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