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Elin Danielson-Gambogi, Elegance and Grace with a Brush

Mother, 1893

Elin Kleopatra Danielson-Gambogi was born September 3, 1861 in southwest Finland. She moved to Helsinki for her early art education then travelled and studied in Paris and finally Florence, Italy under a scholarship for a year until she moved to northern Italy in a small village called Antignano where she met her husband, painter Raffaello Gambogi. Elin only lived to the age of 58, but in her short time produced a solid, diverse body of work that embraces the individuality and strength of women and nature. Her broad spectrum and saturation of colors is fascinating in that she was equally drawn to many different kinds of light and all the effects they produce.

In Mother above, Elin captures a quiet, tender moment with a palette of earth colours, greys and white. Love how that window is painted in thick, impasto strokes of almost pure white that fade as she scumbles the edges to simulate transparent drapes—an absolutely brilliant effect. Elin also balances the composition by using blue accents of the pitcher and glass on the night table in the background. Her skirt is a swathe of olive green strokes that reveal a dark raw umber underapainting that Elin decides to use as shadows. Elin transforms the simple act of breastfeeding into a poem about the miracle of life that resonates with us all.

Toilette, 1897

A sensual study of light and mood. Elin also shows us a world before electricity where this young woman prepares herself in candlelight for her early morning toilette. The sheets swathed around her legs and on the bed are rendered in quick highlights ranging from pastel green to cool grey, and she includes some of those colors even in the shadow of the woman on the bed. I love the clean, dark silhouette of the lovely woman that becomes more red on the face and inside arms and hair. Elin invites us into a mundane activity that becomes a tribute to female sensuality without being overtly erotic or voyeuristic.

Elin Danielson-Gambogi - The Benvenuti House (1915)
The Benvenuti House, 1915

Elin clearly was inspired by the sunshine of Italy here. The greens here seem to vibrate with intensity. The way she paints the wall is a mass of muted greens scumbled across a blue underpainting and yet it works brilliantly. Even the shadow of the wall on the ground is a greyed mixture of probably alizarin crimson with blue and our eyes don't even question it. The sky itself is a blueish-yellow white impasto on top of a light blue, probably cerulean blue underpainting. Elin takes deliberate care of rendering the variety of flowers along the path, and even uses them as highlights as in the pink roses peeking over the wall and the daffodils on the left in the grass. The house itself has a glaze of purple on the roof and along the shadow side, with greens lightly scumbled along the wall facing the sunshine. Elin gives us simplicity and presence in one outdoor scene with no figures, and yet it is inviting and beautiful.

Elin Danielson-Gambogi - Balda-tädin ajanviete (1886)
Balda's aunt's entertainment, 1886

A portrait with incredible character and presence. There is something fascinating in watching a portrait of someone thinking, especially here playing solitaire while smoking a cigarette. Judging by her black dress she is most likely a widow. I love how Elin tells the story with interesting little details. The chair itself has a colorful pattern of greens and oranges that is the same as the empty chair next to her. In the corner of the room behind her in shadow is a bust of some man who humourously appears to be watching her game. The walls once again have a unique texture that appears to have yellow, square-like patters against a warm background. Even the way the cards in her hand are painted is masterly...reflecting the warm hues of the table while rim-lit from the light source, a window, out of frame. Whether she is winning or losing is irrelevant, all that matters is the quiet concentration on her face and a person we might want to know, or already know merely by watching her here.

Elin Danielson-Gambogi - Young needleworkers (1915)
Young needleworkers, 1915

Elin combines her love of sunlight and children together in a simple composition with incredible use of greens. The mediterranean summer air wafts through this scene and the way Elin describes the textures, from the worn chairs to the vines against the wall and along the fence behind them. I am not sure if these were her daughters but it has the feeling of maternal pride here. The shadows in this painting are incredible...lavender hues across the ground, warm and cool mixed together against the wall behind the hanging vines, and dappled sunlight atop of those blue-grey hues on either side of the chairs on the ground. The far wall of the building is made hazy from scumbling greens across it. There is some astute brushwork happening here.

Elin Danielson-Gambogi - Self-Portrait - Google Art Project
Self-portrait, 1900

This self-assured self-portrait was painted when Elin was around 39 years old. I love the quiet confidence of her face and body. A glance at her palette reveals yellow ochre, a cadmium yellow possibly, alizarin crimson, black, prussian blue, maybe ultramarine blue and off to the right we see her flesh tone mixture. A white veil drapes across the window to soften the light and create softer shadows on whatever her subject might be—she paints it here in thin strokes of grey and white, gradually becoming warmer and redder towards the bottom. Beside her left arm we can faintly discern the ghostly pentimento of her arm that she decided to paint over, and rightly so as it makes her look better without it. A beautiful and honest portrait of an artist worthy of more recognition and respect for her sharp eye and amazing color.

A painter and sensitive artist of the highest calibre, Elin Danielson-Gambogi was a talent that we can all study repeatedly by learning the way she could see. A painter for all women, and for all who want to understand light and colour. Her husband was one very lucky man.


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