Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946) was an extremely talented Finnish painter. In 1879, at the age of 17, Schjerfbeck won third prize in a competition organised by the Finnish Art Society, and in 1880 her work was displayed in an annual Finnish Art Society exhibition. That same year, thanks to a travel grant from the Imperial Russian Senate, she spent some time painting in Paris, where she saw the work of the impressionist masters like Manet and Morisot. She travelled quite a bit after that. In 1887 she was in St Ives, Cornwall, in Britain, where she painted this work. It would win her the bronze medal at the 1889 Paris World Fair. In this time of her life, she was painting in a naturalistic plein-air style.
"Her work starts with a dazzlingly skilled, somewhat melancholic version of late-19th-century academic realism…it ends with distilled, nearly abstract images in which pure paint and cryptic description are held in perfect balance." (Roberta Smith, New York Times, November 27th 1992).
Helene Schjerfbeck, Toipilas (The Convalescent) (1888). Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki, Finland