A blue-eyed girl is sitting on a large wicker chair. Inside the mug in her hand is a sprig starting to sprout. The girl is wrapped in a white sheet, with her hair tousled over face. She looks like she just woke up from sleep. “The Convalescent,” the title of this painting, suggests that the girl is recovering from her illness.
Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946), the painter of this work, is a Finnish icon. Even though she was born to a poor family, she was enrolled at the Finnish Art Society School of Drawing with a scholarship at the age of 11 thanks to her outstanding talent. This picture was painted in Cornwall, England when she was 26. Cornwall was a popular travel destination for painters for its beautiful beaches and warm sunshine. Schjerfbeck painted this work at the beginning of spring after a long winter. The girl in the painting was a young student attending a school nearby. Her short hair and dark clothes makes her look like a boy but the sitter in the painting is a girl. She was so vivacious and energetic to the point her teacher could not handle her but the painter expressed her as a sick child according to the intention of the painting. The bring sunshine coming through the window and the bud starting to sprout are a symbol of spring, suggesting that the child will get better soon.
In fact, the painting reflects her painful experience. When she was four, she fell down the stairs and broke her hip. Poverty kept her from receiving proper treatment, leaving her with a lifelong limp. Moreover, she was recovering from the pain of disengagement when she painted the work. The painting reflects the painter’s will to recover from the pain in her body and soul.
The painter was not alone in wishing that spring will come after a harsh winter. The painting, which expresses the arrival of spring as well as hope, received rave review at the Paris Salon that year. After being exhibited in Finland, it was owned by the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki. It must have been the best gift from spring to the painter, who endured the pain of poverty, disability, and love.