Knapas Rainer, Konttinen Riitta & Savojärvi Ulla, Elin Danielson-Gambogi, Helsinki, Otava, 1995
Elin Danielson was ten years old when her father, Karl Emil Danielson, committed suicide, despondent at the failure of the family farm. Her mother, Rosa Amalia Gestrin, encouraged her to continue her studies, with the financial help of her brother, who would be a longtime supporter of the artist. At fifteen, Danielson entered Helsinki’s Finnish Art Society Drawing School, where, in addition to drawing technique and painting, she studied painting on porcelain, training that proved invaluable in enabling her to support herself. In 1880 she obtained a teaching diploma, having taken classes with the painter Adolf von Becker, whose private school was attended by several young Finns, including Helene Schjerfbeck and Ellen Thesleff.
In 1883 Danielson received a grant to travel to Paris. There she enrolled at the Académie Colarossi, received training from the painters Gustave Courtois and Raphaël Collin, and began to study sculpture under Auguste Rodin. In the summertime she left the capital for the artists’ communities in Brittany, where the landscapes were a perpetual source of inspiration. lt was here that she met the naturalist painter Jules Bastien-Lepage, who inspired her to lighten her palette. The young artist divided her time between France and Finland, where she worked outdoors under the leadership of Victor Westerholm in a group known as the Onningebykolonin, similar to the Danish group Skagen, led by the couple Michael and Anna Ancher, or the Worpswede group in Germany made famous by Paula Modersohn-Becker.
Danielson participated in several exhibits in Finland. Her favorite subjects tended to be portraits of women engaged in ordinary daily work (After Brekfast, 1890). The artist was critical of conditions for women, and demonstrated an indifference to prevailing social mores, entertaining relationships with several artists, among them the Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland.
A new grant allowed Danielson to travel to Florence in 1895. She returned the following year and soon afterward settled permanently in ltaly, near Livorno. ln 1898 she married the ltalian painter Raffaello Gambogi, thirteen years her junior. The couple influenced each other mutually, for years participating together in exhibitions in France and ltaly. Danielson-Gambogi achieved a certain success in Italy, taking home a prize given by Florence, and one of her paintings was bought by King Umberto I. But the situation quickly deteriorates. Gambogi, who suffered from mental problems, abandoned his wife, leaving her financially insecure. The outbreak of World War l made it difficult for her to sell her work and impossible for her to see her native country before her death, in 1919, following a bout of pneumonia.
© 2017 American Federation of Arts, originally published in Women Artists in Paris, 1850-1900 by the American Federation of Arts in association with Yale University Press