Eva Bonnier’s depictions of terminal illness, bring us a pared-down everyday perspective, with the artist challenging the stereotypical female bourgeois ideal of the time. Women are presented as “subjects” with strong integrity and not as fragile objects. In Reflection in Blue, from 1887, the figures are painted from a realistic perspective, placing us in the same room as the ailing person. Around the turn of the 20th century, convalescing women are a popular theme in art. Those images should be seen in the context of the prevailing view of and construction of femininity, and thus of the standardisation of the female body. During the 19th century, two key images of women evolved: the weak, sensitive and psychosomatic upper class woman and the strong, dangerous and infectious lower class woman. The “Convalescent” became a symbol of female fragility and thus evidence of women’s inability to take part in public life. Those images can be seen as a reaction to the emancipation of women at the time and as an attempt to return them to the home and the private sphere.

But in the Nordic region one could find many hundreds of female artists and authors during this period. The female artists in Sweden were privileged compared with their European sisters, since they had access to an academic education. The women’s department of the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm opened in 1864, and the professional women had a major influence on the cultural life of the period. They changed both the view of the role of the artist and that of middle-class family life, and in so doing they shook the norm of the male artist to the core. But at the turn of the century there was a backlash and women’s emancipation was thwarted, together with a widespread fear of the “New Woman”.


  • Title: Reflection in Blue
  • Creator: Eva Bonnier
  • Creator Lifespan: 1857/1909
  • Creator Nationality: Swedish
  • Creator Gender: Female
  • Date Created: 1887
  • Title in Swedish: Reflex i blått
  • Signature: Eva Bonnier. 87.
  • Physical Dimensions: w640 x h800 cm (without frame)
  • Artist Information: Eva Bonnier was a Swedish artist specialising mainly on portrait painting. She was the daughter of book publisher Albert Bonnier, founder of the Bonnier media dynasty. In 1875 she started at August Malmström’s art school and then studied at the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm from 1878–1883. Bonnier moved to Paris in 1883 and lived there until 1889. She studied at the Académie Colarossi and exhibited at the Paris Salon in both 1887 and 1888. Bonnier was a member of the Swedish Artists’ Association and was a frequent participant in the Nordic exhibitions of the time. She also exhibited at the World’s Fair in Paris in 1889 and Chicago in 1893.In the early 1890s, Bonnier returned to Stockholm and became engaged to sculptor Per Hasselberg. The relationship did not last, but when Hasselberg died in 1894, Bonnier adopted his illegitimate daughter Julia. Bonnier gave up painting in the mid-1890s, and instead became a benefactor to the arts, donating large sums to a fund for public art in Stockholm. In 1909 she chose to take her own life.
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Nationalmuseum, Nationalmuseum
  • Medium: Oil on canvas

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