01 toukokuuta 2017

Sisterhood from 100 Years ago

Here it is - A network of female artists from 100 years ago:

Helene Schjerfbeck 1862-1946, Ada Thilén 1852-1933, 
Helena Westermarck 1857-1933 and Maria Wiik 1853-1928

My May art post is based on a book I just read - Sisterhood of Artists. This was third book that I have read this year about Finnish female artists by professor Riitta Konttinen. All have been enchanting. This book deals with the lives, art and  life-long friendship between these four exceptional and talented female artists.

Ada Thilén: Girl reading 1896. Turku art museum.
A new way to paint, the colors are dim, the color scheme limited
and the influence of old Italian art is evident.

These four female painters got to know each other very young when studying at the art school of Art Association in Helsinki. They went together to study in Paris, made painting trips in Finland and abroad, even shared ateliers. As to art their opinions varied a lot. The other three did not understand at all the reduced and simple style adopted by Helene Schjerfbeck. Helena Westermarck quit painting later, was keen on women's rights and turned to a novelist and art critic. Ada Thilén is the least famous, although she too painted a lot. A certain kind of competition prevailed between Maria Wiik and Helene Schjerfbeck, these two being the most successful and well-known from the group.

Helena Westermarck: Women ironing1883. Private collection.
Hard critic: The women are extremely ugly; nihilistic;
the work represents extreme radicalism & extreme left!

A hundred years ago letters were the way to keep in touch and to exchange ideas. It was fascinating to read quotes from the letters these four wrote to each other. Only Helene Schjerfbeck was poor, the three others came from wealthy aristocratic families. But also they met sorrows and inconveniences: Thilén was visually impaired since birth and had a glass eye; Wiik's vision got poor because of glaucoma; Westermarck suffered from tuberculosis but was cured in the end; Schjerfbeck suffered from her hip injury from childhood and poor health the whole life.

Maria Wiik: Out to the world 1889. Ateneum.
The situation of two women at different age:
the young one aims out to the world, while grandmother is contemplating.

All four stayed unmarried. This was usually the only way for female artists to be successful, free of family, husband and child caring. Schjerfbeck was a short while engaged to a British painter but the groom broke the engagement being afraid that her hip injury was tuberculotic - which was not the case. These female painters spent summers at St. Ives and Bretagne too, all the time needing a chaperone, for it was not appropriate for young ladies to walk or travel alone.

Helene Schjerfbeck: Boy feeding his little sister 1881. Ateneum.
These Breton children arouse an avalanche of critique
for they were considered to be extremely ugly.
The great artistic merits were buried under this ugliness.

Today it is very difficult to understand why these gorgeous paintings arouse so much controversy at their time. The book Sisterhood of Artists was a marvellous book to read with its many photos. Sorry it is available only in Finnish.

Riitta Konttinen, Sisterhood of Artists, published by Siltala 2014

Please, search for more artwork with the ladies' names.
I hope you enjoyed.

Five on Friday
Paint Monthly
Mosaic Monday

My previous posts on
Helene Schjerfbeck / June 2016
Maria Wiik / August 2016

18 kommenttia:

  1. What a fabulous post Riitta. Such a different way of life for those women compared to today. I particularly love the first two paintings. Thanks for linking again. B x

  2. Ei ole ollut helppoa olla taiteilija ja nainen tuohon aikaan. Onneksi taiteilijoilla oli toisensa, joiden kanssa pystyi purkamaan tunteita ja vaihtamaan ajatuksia.
    Hieno kirja varmaan; jos niskani sallisi lukemisen, tämän haluaisin lukea.
    Kiitos esittelystä!

  3. A wonderful post Riitta, introducing us to more talented artists. I thought that the picture of the women ironing was lovely but the Breton children stole my heart.
    Sending you best May Day wishes on Mosaic Monday.

  4. Luv these vintage glances
    Happy mosaic Monday

    Much love...

  5. I enjoyed this very much, Riitta. These women were very talented, and each painted in her own individualistic style, which makes them all the more beautiful. I especially like the romantic nature of the first painting of a girl reading in the woods. And of the two women ironing - they look like strong women who know their own minds.
    Happy May Day!

  6. Those children don't look ugly to me ...they look healthy and real. But my favorite is the lady reading in the field of flowers. I would be happy there! I suppose all the controversy was partly because the artists were women..... and unmarried ... probably arousing suspicion and dislike in narrow-minded critics. Thank you for sharing these.

  7. Wonderful to read of these four women artists. I am particularly interested in women artists in times past, as there were not many, due to the constraints of society. How sad that they were critiqued so harshly, too. I do love the realistic nature of the paintings as they portrayed 'real' people, not some idealized version of 'beauty'. Thank you for sharing. xx Karen

    1. Thank you all for visiting & commenting <3 Indeed, for women art was a tough choice. They were critiqued very harshly and were considered 'not talented enough' - for the only persons with real talent were MEN!

  8. Beautiful paintings and they are not ugly at all! Those days, women had a tough time. Have a beautiful day!

  9. Muy lindas las pinturas, a mí me gustan. Un beso.

  10. Lovely to see such beautiful painting and hear their story. Thanks for sharing your Five on Friday!

  11. Sounds like a fabulous book. I loved the art you shared from these very talented women. Happy Friday!

  12. Lovely post Riitta, very informative. I guess it's a lot like lady authors too who went under an assumed name, usually a male. How times have changed, though many strive for more changes. It's good to look back and be glad for how far we've progressed. Cathy x

  13. Wonderful of you to share this informative post with us. I was ready to buy and read that book until you said Finnish language only. Sad face here. The beautiful paintings make it hard to believe they were criticized at all, let along for being ugly...how can they say children are ugly? Anyway, did appreciate all the information you provided.

    1. Thank you all for your comments <3 Female artists were harshly critiqued by males. They said women were not talented enough, they were dilettantes waiting for a husband etc. Terrible time 100 years ago...

  14. It sounds an interesting read. How times have changed over that 100 years, wouldn't they all be shocked by the modern these days.

  15. interesing old paintings. I wish I could paint like that. Love the second one.

  16. Beautiful paintings, the women artists are always not as well known as the men. My favorite is the first. I've asked my husband if he could paint me a copy of it.


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