Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Penzance
The artistic heart of West Cornwall's history

Chickens Amongst Cornstooks, c.1887

Oil on panel

Helene Schjerfbeck

1862 - 1946

Although few in Britain have heard of her, in Scandinavia, and particularly in her native Finland, Schjerfbeck has achieved near-mythical status as a highly popular and influential artist. Penlee House is the only UK public collection to hold her work.



Helene Schjerfbeck - 1862 - 1946

Schjerfbeck, who is considered one of Finland’s finest artists, was one of the very early foreign visitors to St Ives.

Her childhood was blighted by illness, leading to life-long frailty and lameness in one leg, but the provision of drawing materials to relieve her boredom allowed her artistic talent to flourish. In 1880, she received a travel grant which enabled her to study in Paris, where she met the Austrian artist Marianne Preindlsberger, with whom she later travelled to Brittany. In July 1887, she received another travel grant and used it to visit Marianne – now married to the artist Adrian Stokes – in St Ives.

She was soon writing enthusiastic letters about the Cornish landscape: “There are thousands of subjects here I would like to paint: the old fishing village down below, the new artists' town on the hills above, a couple of sandy beaches, the harbour with the boats, heaths and grassy pastures browned by the hot summer sun. Cornwall is the most beautiful place I have ever seen.”

Helene returned to St Ives in 1889, writing to her brother, 'I have been almost every day at the Stokes' and with them I went to a benefit concert for school children… Marianne sends her love, she is delighted with her maid and with her home’.

In 1890, Schjerfbeck returned to her native Finland where she lived in isolation for much of the remainder of her life.

For further information, see 'Helene Schjerfbeck', Annabelle Gorgen and Hurbertus Gassner, published by Hamburger Kunsthalle, ISBN 13: 978-3-7774-3650-0