Schjerfbeck titled this painting after the black lace shawl worn by Sigrid Nyberg, her friend and landlady in a town on the Finnish coast. As the artist worked, she transformed the shawl and torso into abstract shapes and passages of color. Bold strokes and thin layers of paint create a varied, textured surface. Nyberg’s face is stylized, with dramatic eyes, lips, and sleek hair evoking the modern woman of the 1920s. Despite the woman’s aloof expression, Schjerfbeck saw the picture as conveying her own "inner sorrow and emptiness" after a thwarted relationship. The artist’s style earned her a reputation as "Finland’s Munch." This is her first work acquired by a museum in the United States.
Due to rights restrictions, this image cannot be enlarged, viewed at full screen, or downloaded.
Use your arrow keys to navigate the tabs below, and your tab key to choose an item
Title:The Lace Shawl
Artist:Helene Schjerfbeck (Finnish, Helsinki 1862–1946 Saltsjöbaden)
Medium:Oil on canvas
Dimensions:22 13/16 × 14 3/8 in. (58 × 36.5 cm)
Credit Line:Mary Trumbull Adams and Rogers Funds, 2023
Inscription: Signed (lower left): HS
[Gösta Stenman, Helsinki]; Frithjof Tikanoja, Vaasa, Finland, by the late 1940s (inventory no. 1518); [Ernst Willberg, Helsinki, by 1950–at least 1953]; Karin and Robert Jansson, Helsinki; Jansson family, by descent (until 2022; their sale, Stockholms Auktionsverk, Helsinki, May 22, 2022, no. 2109510, as "The Lace Shawl," probably to Amells Konsthandel, Stockholm); Amells Konsthandel, Stockholm (2022–23)
Helsinki. Salon Strindberg. "Vapaat: Ensi näyttely—De fria: första utställningen," November 27–December 12, 1920, no. 15 (as "Spetssjalen—Pitsisaali").
London, Ont. Elsie Perrin Williams Memorial Library and Art Museum. "Helene Schjerfbeck—Paints from Finland," August–September 1949, not in catalogue.
Oslo. Kunstnernes Hus. "Den Offisielle Finske Kunstutstilling, Oslo 1950: malerier, skulptur, tegninger, grafikk," January 7–February 5, 1950, no. 142 (as "Sangerinnen," lent by Dir. Ernst Willberg, Helsinki).
Minneapolis. Walker Art Center. "An Exhibition of Finnish Fine and Applied Arts," May 1952, no. 5 (as "Singer," lent by Mr. E. Willberg).
National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution. "An Exhibition of Finnish Arts and Crafts," June 5–26, 1952, no. 5 (as "Singer," lent by Mr. E. Willberg).
Ottawa. National Gallery of Canada. "Exhibition of Finnish Arts and Crafts," September 29–October 20, 1952, no. 5 (as "Singer," lent by E. Willberg).
Rochester, Minn. Rochester Art Center. "Finnish Painting & Sculpture," February 3–12, 1953, no catalogue.
Stockholm. Amells. "Jubileumsutställning Amells 100 Ar," October 8–29, 2022, unnumbered cat. (as "Sangerskan [Spetssjalen]," lent by a private collection, Finland).
Helene Schjerfbeck. Letter to Einar Reuter. July 27, 1920, mentions that she wants to paint a picture of "Fröken" (Miss) [her name for Sigrid Nyberg] in a black floral lace shawl.
Helene Schjerfbeck. Letter to Einar Reuter. September 26, 1920, writes that she is painting "Spetssjalen" [The Lace Shawl].
Helene Schjerfbeck. Letter to Einar Reuter. September 28, 1920, writes about reworking certain areas of the picture.
Helene Schjerfbeck. Letter to Einar Reuter. September 30, 1920, writes that she will send the painting to her brother Magnus Schjerfbeck, who helped manage her career, and asks if it can be included [probably in the exhibition Helsinki 1920]; expresses dissatisfaction with the painting.
Helene Schjerfbeck. Letter to Einar Reuter. October 7, 1920, writes that she is sending the painting and that it should go to Magnus [Schjerfbeck], who is in charge of the frame.
Helene Schjerfbeck. Letter to Einar Reuter. October 12, 1920, expresses dissatisfaction with the painting.
Den offisielle finske kunstutstilling, Oslo 1950: Malerier, skulptur, tegninger, grafikk. Exh. cat.Oslo, 1950, p. 19, no. 142, dates it about 1930.
H. Ahtela. Helena Schjerfbeck: Kamppailu kauneudesta. Porvoo, 1951, p. 418, no. 266, as "Pitsisaali" (The Lace Shawl); dates it 1928–30; notes that it is in the Stenman collection.
An Exhibition of Finnish Fine and Applied Arts. Exh. cat., Walker Art Center. Minneapolis, 1952, p. 9, no. 5, dates it about 1920.
An Exhibition of Finnish Arts and Crafts. Exh. cat., National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution. Washington, 1952, p. 9, no. 5, dates it about 1920.
Exhibition of Finnish Arts and Crafts. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Canada. Ottawa, 1952, unpaginated, no. 5, dates it about 1920.
H. Ahtela. Helena Schjerfbeck. Stockholm, 1953, pp. 174, 176, 364, no. 539, as "Spetssjalen" (The Lace Shawl); dates it 1919–20; locates it in the collection of Dir. Ernst Wilberg, Helsinki; refers to the sitter as "fröken Nyberg" (Mrs. Nyberg) and notes that the shawl is black floral lace; describes it as "alltför kallgröna" (too cold green) and "helt kubistisk" (completely cubist); cites the artist's frustrated assessment of it as "'trött, dålig'" (tired, bad).
Leena Ahtola-Moorhouse inHelene Schjerfbeck: 150 Years. Ed. Leena Ahtola-Moorhouse. Exh. cat., Ateneum Art Museum. Helsinki, 2012, p. 346 (under no. 709), dates it 1919–20; reproduces the later version in gouache, watercolor, and oil on paper.
Carina Engelhardt Onne inJubileumsutställning Amells 100 Ar. Ed. Carina Engelhardt Onne. Exh. cat., Amells. Stockholm, 2022, pp. 96–99, ill. (color, overall and detail), dates it to the 1920s; discusses the model, other paintings by the artist in which she appears, and various previous dates and titles for the picture; provides provenance information.
Leena Ahtola-Moorhouse inSpring sale. May 22, 2022 [https://auctionet.com/en/2109510-schjerfbeck-helene-the-lace-shawl-signed-oil-on-canvas] no. 2109510, ill. (color, overall and details), provides provenance information for the picture; tentatively dates it 1928–30; notes that the model Sigrid Nyberg was a former landlady from Tammisaari who had made herself a shawl and that she modeled for other paintings by Schjerfbeck of this period; compares it to the work of Georges Rouault.
The Met Collection API is where all makers, creators, researchers, and dreamers can connect to the most up-to-date data and public domain images for The Met collection. Open Access data and public domain images are available for unrestricted commercial and noncommercial use without permission or fee.
We continue to research and examine historical and cultural context for objects in The Met collection. If you have comments or questions about this object record, please complete and submit this form. The Museum looks forward to receiving your comments.