Painted in 1882, Dancing Shoes is one of Helene Schjerfbeck's most popular and enduring images. As with her other favourite themes, most notably The Convalescent (fig. 1), she returned to the subject thoughout her life, in this case three times. The subject was so popular that Schjerfbeck was encouraged to reproduce it as a lithograph, which catapulted Dancing Shoes to international fame (fig. 2).
The sitter was Schjerfbeck's cousin, Esther Lupander. As Athela, Schjerfbeck's biographer, recalls, 'she [Esther] was once wearing a white bobbinet skirt and a black velvet jacket and was seated on a camp stool tying her shoe. Helene painted her like this with her hair covering her face. Esther had extremely long legs, and it was said about this picture that no child could have such long legs. "In that case, you haven't seen Esther Lupander," said Helene. Because of the long legs the picture was called The Grasshopper' (H. Ahtela, Helene Schjerfbeck, Helsinki, 1953, pp. 41-42).
The present work is the first, and prime, version of the subject. Painted in the Realist style, it clearly shows the influence of Schjerfbeck's time in Paris, where she had expressed her admiration for Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Berthe Morisot, and Mary Cassatt. The smaller, more sketchy version (fig. 3), also of 1882, was sold at Sotheby's in June 2003, as was the final, pared down version of 1939/40 (fig. 4) in March 1990.
Schjerfbeck's sensibility as a painter of children, epitomised by Dancing Shoes and The Convalescent, has its roots in her own childhood. Solitary and shy by nature, as a young girl she suffered from a debilitating hip ailment, and The Convalescent is widely regarded as a symbolic self portrait. Similarly, the present work, exuding the joy and unselfconsciousness of a little girl, is perhaps a celebration of the joys of childhood Schjerfbeck herself was denied.
Fig. 1, Helene Schjerfbeck, The Convalescent, 1888, oil on canvas, Helsinki, Ateneum
Fig. 2, Helene Schjerfbeck, Dancing Shoes, lithograph, two editions: état I 75 prints and état II 50 prints
Fig. 3, Helene Schjerfbeck, Dancing Shoes, sold: Sotheby's, London, 3 June 2003
Fig. 4, Helene Schjerfbeck, Dancing Shoes, 1939-40, sold: Sotheby's, London, 27 April 1990
Oil on canvas
Helsinki, Suomen Taideyhdistyksen näyttely, 1882, no. 47
Helsinki, Stenman Gallery, Helena Schjerfbeck 1879-1917, 1917, no. 60
Helsinki, Ateneum, Realismi Realismen, 1962, no. 163
Helsinki, Ateneum, Helene Schjerfbeck. Teemoja ja Muunnelmia, 1962, no. 15
Stockholm, Nationalmuseum, Målarinnor från Finland, 1981, no. 26
Helsinki, Ateneum; Tampere Art Museum; Turku Art Museum, Taiteilijattaria, 1981-82, no. 33/ 68
Copenhagen, Statens Museum for Kunst; Hamburg, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Seven Women Painters from Finland, 1983, no. 29
Helsinki, Ateneum, Helene Schjerfbeck, 1992, no. 59, illustrated
Åmot, Modums Blaafarvevaerk, To Malerinner, 1998, no. 53
55 by 64.5cm., 21¾ by 25½in.
H. Ahtela (Einar Reuter), Helene Schjerfbeck, Helsinki, 1953, p. 356, catalogued; p. 43, fig. 9, illustrated
Lea Bergström and Sue Cedercreutz-Suhonen, Helene Schjerfbeck: Malleja, Helsinki, 2003, fig. 3, illustrated
Nikolai & Olga Kiseleff, Helsinki
Nadine Topelius, Helsinki (daughter of the above)
Georg Topelius, Helsinki (son of the above)
Acquired by the previous owner from the above