Begun in 1934 but not completed until 10 years later, Lemons in a Bowl is a masterpiece from Schjerfbeck's late period, and belongs to a series of fruit still lifes she painted from 1915 onwards. While individual pieces of fruit featured in earlier figural works, notably Costume Picture (1909; Ateneum), pure still lifes of single pieces of fruit or bowls of fruit were to become important subjects in their own right. As her life became ever more solitary, Schjerfbeck discovered the expressive potential of inanimate objects in her immediate surroundings. In the present work, as in Pumpkins (1937, Pori Art Museum), the brightly-coloured subject emerges from a flattened, almost abstracted space, as Schjerfbeck explores the vibrant colour harmonies of the exotic lemons held within the altogether more Finnish masur birch bowl. (http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2014/19th-century-european-paintings-l15102/lot.12.html)
As her health weakened in her final years, Schjerfbeck received continued pleas from her dealer Gösta Stenman to move to Sweden, which she finally did in February 1944. Schjerfbeck would live out the rest of her life at the Saltsjöbaden spa hotel south-east of Stockholm, where it is likely she completed the present work in 1944. Approaching death, her artistic production acquired a striking new intensity and vigour best demonstrated by the 20 unflinchingly frank and original self-portraits which are among the highlights of her oeuvre.
Acquired by Stenman, in whose collection the painting remained after Schjerfbeck's death, Lemons in a Bowl was exhibited in the artist's lifetime and went on to feature in many of the landmark exhibitions of her work, beginning with the Artek gallery exhibition just three months after her death. Other highlight exhibitions include the ones organised by Gösta's widow Bertha Stenman (1890-1969) in the U.S.A. and Canada, after war had prevented the exhibition scheduled to travel there in 1939; the 1956 Venice Biennale, at which Schjerfbeck's work represented Finland; and most recently at the major retrospective of her work in Helsinki and Gothenburg in 2012-13.
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