A Swedish Artist Captures the Fantasy and Melancholy of an Aging Ballerina

Apr 8, 2016 9:33PM

Helena Blomqvist’s new show at Lars Bohman Gallery in Stockholm takes its name from its subject, Florentine Stein. Once a prima ballerina, now a tiny old woman, Florentine is the central figure in Blomqvist’s series of lush, dramatically lit photographs that twist the idea of documentary portraiture.

The romantic settings—interiors characterized by hardwood floors, old-fashioned molding, and patterned wallpaper—are flooded with muted sunshine and dreamy, surreal details such as white birds in flight. And then there’s Florentine herself: diminutive and delicate, swathed in a regal white dress in one photograph, in a fluffy white bathrobe in another. Only upon closer inspection do you realize that the puppet ballerina is practically ancient, her face deeply lined; the wallpaper is peeling off the walls, and the paint is chipped.

Lovely and strange, Blomqvist’s photographs express a profound sense of nostalgia that recalls Miss Havisham’s cobweb-collecting wedding banquet in Great Expectations. In To the Moon…and Home (2016), the piled-up old newspapers are reminiscent of Dickens’ plates and cutlery, still placed on the banquet table. They suggest fantasy, delirium, and melancholy, a retreat from reality into the world of memories. In The Ivory Dress (2016), Florentine looks dressed up for a party that may or may not be happening.

Though Florentine isn’t physically present in each work, a similar sun-dappled romanticism runs through them all. Blomqvist is a master of light; the city buildings are ethereal, almost glowing. In these works, as in the photographs of the titular ballerina, we perceive something beautiful but mournful—a sense of longing for a more elegant past. We can’t be sure whether the images represent Florentine’s past or merely her rose-tinted recollections of it.

—Bridget Gleeson

Helena Blomqvist: Florentine” is on view at Lars Bohman Gallery, Stockholm, Mar. 17–Apr. 23, 2016.

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