In spring 2021, Turku Art Museum will fill up with the intense colourism and visionary expression that lie at the heart of the work of artist Sigrid Schauman (1877–1979). Experiencing a resurgence of creativity after age 70, Schauman was inspired by French-influenced modernism and colourism, with a special emphasis on impressionism and post-impressionism. Comprising 120 paintings from 1903–1961, the exhibition will be the most extensive show of Schauman’s work to have ever been shown in Turku. The works are on loan from 40 collections across Finland, most of them from private collections and hence rarely seen in public.
At the heart of Schauman’s work are colour and light, while her central subject matter is the landscape. Even as a young woman she travelled to Italy and France and continued to visit both countries well into her old age. She was never inspired by landscapes at home, feeling they were too monotonous. Schauman painted cultural landscapes: she was not attracted to wilderness romanticism, and only a few winter scenes are to be found in her work. During the exceptional years of the second world war, she discovered the parks and gardens of Helsinki, which in her paintings she dressed up in southern colours. They served as surrogates for the lushness and exuberance of colour in France and Italy.
Schauman was already a cosmopolitan by virtue of her background. Her father was a high-ranking Finnish officer whose commissions took him and his family around Russia. Schauman was born in Ukraine but spent much of her childhood in Poland. Although she was born into privileged circles, a dearth of support from her family, a lack of money and a failed love affair all presented obstacles in her path to becoming a practising artist. In order to support herself and her daughter, Schauman worked for three decades as an art critic for two Swedish-language newspapers in Helsinki. She was consequently only able to work as artist in the summer and could not dedicate herself to painting until she retired in the late 1940s. The result is an amazingly intense and rich body of late work that consists of light-drenched landscapes and reductive self-portraits, portraits of other figures, and nude studies that border on mirage-like visions.
Schauman lived to be 101 and painted up to the age of 90. In addition to international trends in art, the evolution of her munificent style, which largely shuns details, was influenced profoundly by her failing eyesight. As a critic, she realised the significance of non-figurative art, although she never fully embraced abstraction in her own work. Spanning more than 70 years, her creative career is a textbook example of not only talent but of perseverance as well. “After all, one has to think about one’s future and artistic development,” Schauman retorted when someone wondered how she could set out to paint in France, although she was almost 72. The pithy riposte is illustrative of Schauman’s willpower, determination and open mind.