In 1864, the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts allowed female students for the first time in 130 years. It was 33 years faster than École des Beaux-Arts in France. Talented Swedish women received specialized training and became professional painters. Sigrid Hjerten was one of them.
Hjerten who studied fine arts in Stockholm registered herself in Henri Matisse’s studio in Paris in 1909. She was adored by Matisse for her colorful style. She married Isaac Grünewald, a fellow Swedish painter, in 1911, returned to her home country, and built a career by participating in exhibitions at home and abroad.
This painting, which shows Matisse’s impact, depicts the inside of the couple’s studio in Stockholm. Hjerten’s husband and other painters are having a conversation on the sofa with Hjerten in them. In a long skirt and blouse, the Swedish modernist painter is sitting modestly and listening to their conversation. Cups of tea placed in front of them must have been prepared by her. There are also a woman in a black dress and a male painter smiling while looking at them. The female who is leaning against the man in a snooty and arrogant pose is a painter herself. The young son of the Swedish couple is crawling towards them from the right corner of the painting. In short, the painting depicts a confusing reality faced by Hjerten who had to play four roles of an artist, woman, wife, and mother.
Hjerten produced many paintings and she was very active in her career by participating in 106 exhibitions during her lifetime. However, many critics did not receive her art well because she is a woman and some even wrote very insulting critiques. Just because there was a system in place, it did not mean that conventions and prejudices changed. As she was hospitalized for schizophrenia, her husband cheated and left her for another woman.
The goddess of fortune found her when she was 51. Critics who viewed her 500 paintings at her solo exhibition held at the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts in 1936 said Hjerten was ‘one of the greatest and the most unique modern artists of Sweden.’ It was her very first fair critique and compliment.