Creating the Self: Emancipating Woman in Estonian & Finnish Art

Exhibition at Kumu Art Museum (Tallinn, Estonia 06.12.2019 - 26.04.2020), in collaboration with Ateneum Art Museum (Helsinki, Finland)

Art Museum of Estonia

Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

Creating the Self

In art history, the works of women artists were often considered inferior, and therefore, compared to male artists, fewer of their works were included in art collections and exhibitions.

Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

There are various historical reasons for this institutional exclusion.

For centuries, women’s opportunities to acquire an art education and work in the field of art were significantly more limited than those of men.

As a result, women artists preferred, or were forced to concentrate on, certain genres, e.g. portraits, still lifes and landscapes, and this created the idea of a specific and less valuable “woman art”.

Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-10) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

And yet, a large part of the material in this exhibition confirms that women artists were not passive victims in a society ruled by men.

The fact that women became artists and rejected the lifestyle expected of them created opportunities for self-development and for using art as a means of expressing the way they experienced the world.

Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

This exhibition focuses on the works of Estonian and Finnish women artists between the mid-19th century and the end of the 1950s. The broad time span enables attention to be paid to various subjects related to women artists and helps introduce viewers to works that have not received the attention they deserve.

Creating the Self - Exhibition View by Stanislav Stepashko (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

The goal of the exhibition is to highlight the development of the self-awareness of women artists, and their means of adapting to art processes.

Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

The exhibition has been organised in collaboration with the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki.

A comparison of Estonian and Finnish women artists enriches the exhibition and provides an opportunity to draw parallels.

Artworks by women artists with Baltic-German, Estonian, Finnish and Finnish-Swedish backgrounds intersect, and take viewers to St Petersburg, Düsseldorf, Paris and Rome, in addition to various places in Estonia and Finland.

Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

Copying

In the 19th century, copies of art classics were made for various reasons. They were used to teach art history and supplement art collections. Copying the paintings of the Old Masters helped art students develop their artistic taste and painting skills. 

Fishing (Fishermen). Copy after Adolf Kauffmann (A. Guyot) by Anna Elisabeth von MaydellArt Museum of Estonia

Copying, besides being a way for them to acquire professional skills, also enabled women artists to earn a living.

Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

Among other things, copies by the Finnish artists Helene Schjerfbeck, Ida Silfverberg and Venny Soldan-Brofeldt, and by the Baltic-German women artists Elsbeth Rudolff, Alexandrine von Wistinghausen and others showed the changing artistic ideals.

As the developing idea of true-to-life art replaced an appetite for antiquity and the Renaissance, an interest in the Old Masters of the Netherlands and Spain also increased.

Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

Art Education 

Art Education In the 19th century, in addition to acquiring their skills by copying artworks, most of the women who wanted to become professionals were taught at home by special tutors or at drawing schools and private studios.

Wrestlers. After an Antique Sculpture, Sally von Kügelgen, 1881, From the collection of: Art Museum of Estonia
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Drawing was also practised by copying motifs of classic paintings and nature printed on sample sheets.

Some of the albums with sample sheets were intended primarily for women.

Tulip, Henriette Helffreich, 1825-05-11, From the collection of: Art Museum of Estonia
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Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

Since, for a long time, women had no access to nude painting classes at the art academies, the greatest obstacle to dealing with historical painting was the lack of skill in depicting the naked body.

Therefore, the student works completed by Sally von Kügelgen at the St Petersburg Art Academy between 1880 and 1885 stand out for the excellent artistic level and for their exceptional subject matter.

Nude Drawing by Salome TreiArt Museum of Estonia

Figure drawing also formed the basis for the teaching at the Pallas Art School, which opened in Tartu in 1919, and was one of the first manifestations and measures of the talent of female students.

Creating the Self - Exhibition View by Stanislav Stepashko (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

Still Life

Since women artists were not taught how to depict the human body in the course of their academic art education, they could not work in the field of historical painting. Thus, other fields of activity considered to be suitable for women artists and their creative self-realisation developed. 

Flowers in a Vase, Julie Wilhelmine Hagen-Schwarz, 1845, From the collection of: Art Museum of Estonia
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Along with portraiture, the still life – the world of intimate things and flowers – was associated with indoor life, the tidying up and organisation of which was considered to be a woman’s responsibility in the 19th century.

Still life techniques could be learned by relying on tradition, and studying the works of the Old Masters.

Peonies in the Vase, Olga von der Pahlen, 1898, From the collection of: Art Museum of Estonia
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Flowers by Henriette HelffreichArt Museum of Estonia

This made it possible to apply the sensibilities inherent in femininity to the pursuit of creative goals.

Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

There were several wonderful still life painters, such as Julie Hagen, Marie Dücker, Olga von der Pahlen and Lilly Walther, among the Baltic-German female artists.

Still Life with Dried Leaves by Marie DückerArt Museum of Estonia

The wonderful execution of paintings by artists who worked in various genres, as well as their fidelity to nature, were very appealing.

Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

Finnish Pathfinders

The creative paths of the first 19th-century Finnish women artists were winding and proceeded in conjunction with the fight to secure their place in the arena of professional art. 

Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

Many women studied at drawing schools in Turku and Helsinki, although few dared become professional artists.

Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

As women who had chosen careers as artists, they had to maintain a balance between the expectations and limitations associated with their gender and their professional goals and personal wishes.

Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

The painters who started to impact the Finnish art scene in the 1880s were united by their self-awareness, dedication to the profession and exceptional solidarity.

Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

Art studies and the wish for self-realisation took them to Stockholm, the large art cities in Germany, Paris, Bretagne and Italy.

Coming into contact with the trends of “plein air” painting, naturalism and modern art helped elucidate the daring contemporary art ideas of the painters who started working in the final decade of the 19th century.

Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

Damenwelt

During the last quarter of the 19th century, the impoverishment of the nobility and democratisation of society created conditions for the emergence of women artists from the Baltic-German noble families.

Portrait of a Lady, Lydia von Ruckteschell, 1885/1886, From the collection of: Art Museum of Estonia
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Working as an artist or art teacher were professions that noble ladies could choose in order to make a living without having to fear the scorn of society.

Portrait of a Lady by Sally von KügelgenArt Museum of Estonia

In an exhibition review that appeared in 1888, a critic used the term Damenwelt (ladies’ world) to describe the artists.

Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

The approximately 50 talented women included the painters Lydia von Ruckteschell, Sally von Kügelgen, Alexandrine von Wistinghausen and Magda Zoege von Manteuffel.

Ruins of Toolse Castle (1892) by Olga von der PahlenArt Museum of Estonia

Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

However, the younger Baltic-German female artists were not acknowledged for their special “feminine” art strategy.

Instead, they were primarily appreciated for their ability to succeed in the field of contemporary professional art.

Creating the Self - Exhibition View by Stanislav Stepashko (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

Julie Hagen Schwarz

Julie Hagen SchwarzJulie Hagen, the first professional woman artist in Estonian art history, had to wage a passionate struggle to become and remain a professional artist.

Portrait of a Woman by Julie Wilhelmine Hagen-SchwarzArt Museum of Estonia

As the talented daughter of the artist August Hagen, she was first taught by her father, and continued her studies in the galleries and private studios of Dresden and Munich.

Creating the Self - Exhibition View by Stanislav Stepashko (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

The time she spent in Rome and its environs between 1851 and 1854 marked the expansion of her scope from portraiture to landscape painting and the depiction of folk types.

After marrying Ludwig Schwarz, who was later Professor of Astronomy at the University of Tartu, the artist returned to Tartu, and worked primarily as a portrait painter and art teacher.

Creating the Self - Exhibition View by Stanislav Stepashko (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

The painter’s creative arc reflected the fast-changing artistic trend, from a detailed Biedermeier-style realism to a true-to-life treatment of nature.

In 1858, the artist received the title of Academician from the St Petersburg Academy of Arts.

Italian Landscape with Ruins (1867) by Julie Wilhelmine Hagen-SchwarzArt Museum of Estonia

Creating the Self - Exhibition View by Stanislav Stepashko (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

Karin Luts

Karin Luts (1904–1993) was one of the most unique female artists in Estonian art history. 

In the Corridor (1935) by Karin LutsArt Museum of Estonia

A self-aware and “androgynous” female type who resembled the artist herself often powerfully stood out in her work.

Creating the Self - Exhibition View by Stanislav Stepashko (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

Luts studied at the Pallas Art School in Tartu and continued her studies in Paris and Rome.

Her works are characterised by unique imagery, which includes both religious motifs and women active in real-life situations.

Artist (1937) by Karin LutsArt Museum of Estonia

Luts was one of the most consistent cultivators of the self-portrait genre; her paintings and drawings depict the artist in various roles and situations.

In 1944, Luts emigrated to Sweden. 

Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

Sincerity

Women artists often depicted their nearby surroundings, things that were intimate and connected to their daily lives. Children were another motif that pervaded their work. 

A Boy with an Orange, Lydia von Ruckteschell, 1880s or 1890s, From the collection of: Art Museum of Estonia
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A Standing Boy, Olga Terri, 1940s, From the collection of: Art Museum of Estonia
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Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

Children’s portraits were often commissions that were considered most suitable for women artists.

While most of the works by women artists involved active dialogues with the changing world and topical art trends, children’s portraits were characterised by permanency: an attempt to convey tenderness, affection, sincerity and intimacy.

Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

These pictures demonstrated another perspective, one which was often overshadowed by the one that dominated the world.

Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

Positions

When depicting themselves and other women, women artists were able to capture a wide variety of types and roles: from romantic to provocative, from delicate to powerful, from frivolous to religious. 

Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-10) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

Women in front of mirrors, women reading and women as artists were motifs that appeared with equal frequency.

Two Female Nudes, Aino Bach, 1938, From the collection of: Art Museum of Estonia
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Self-Portrait, Olga Terri, Undated, From the collection of: Art Museum of Estonia
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Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

On the other hand, few men’s portraits could be found among the oeuvre of women artists; usually they were commissions or portraits of family members.

While women’s lives were often dependent on the rules established by men, art represented an area of freedom.

Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

It was a means of self-characterisation and emancipation which reflected and depicted what was happening in the artists’ surroundings.

Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

From Handicrafts to Applied Art

As a result of the activities of the handicrafts schools to improve the education and vocational skills of women, the preconditions for the birth of professional applied art developed in the early 20th century. 

Girl with Flowers, Eveline von Maydell, 1923, From the collection of: Art Museum of Estonia
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Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

At the instigation of Louise Rebenitz’s handicrafts school, the Applied Art Studio and many other associations, schools and studios, women acquired excellent skills and started to impact the appearance of the living environment.

Many women artists studied in St Petersburg in the art school established by Baron A. Stieglitz.

The curriculum of this applied art school formed the main breeding ground for Estonian applied artists, i.e. the Tallinn (later State) School of Arts and Crafts, which was founded in 1914 and operated under several names.

Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

In the period between the two world wars, the artists who had studied at the school opened their own studios, and successfully fulfilled commissions from a handicrafts company, Nikolai Langebraun’s porcelain factory, Eduard Taska’s ornamental leatherwork company, Lorup’s glass factory, Karl Haupt’s fine leather factory and the Savi company.

Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

Drawing Hobby 

Creating the Self - Exhibition View by Stanislav Stepashko (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

Creating the Self - Exhibition View by Stanislav Stepashko (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

Life/Scene

Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographerArt Museum of Estonia

Creating the Self - Exhibition View by Stanislav Stepashko (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

Intertwined Eras

After World War II, the Soviet era introduced a new ideologically defined female figure, the “Soviet woman”, into Estonian art. She was supposed to participate in socialist reconstruction on an equal basis with men. 

Portrait of a Woman, Olga Terri, 1940s, From the collection of: Art Museum of Estonia
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In the art of that time, women appeared in different social roles and as representatives of various lifestyles.

Preparation for the Song Festival, Leili Muuga, 1956, From the collection of: Art Museum of Estonia
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However, Soviet society was more complicated than depicted in the Soviet propaganda, and it was still assumed that women would also fulfil their traditional roles.

Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

Thus, two different female types lived side-by-side in art at that time.

The figure of the battling working woman was balanced by heroines from the bourgeois world: beauties looking in mirrors, ladies in cafés and fragile muses.

Creating the Self - Exhibtion View (2019) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

The Modern World

The “modern woman”, whose appearance and lifestyle differed from that of earlier female figures, developed during the first decades of the 20th century. Having gained ever greater freedom and independence, she challenged the old image of a woman and her behavioural patterns.

Creating the Self - Exhibition View by Stanislav Stepashko (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

The modern woman of that time often had bobbed hair and wore “androgynous” clothing, as well as smoking cigarettes, which became a symbol of gender equality and emancipation.

Woman with a Cigarette, Lydia Mei, 1920s, From the collection of: Art Museum of Estonia
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Portrait of Natalie Mei, Lydia Mei, 1930, From the collection of: Art Museum of Estonia
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Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

Still-Life with Spring Snowflakes (1928) by Lydia MeiArt Museum of Estonia

Still-Life with a Bowler Hat (1928/1932) by Lydia MeiArt Museum of Estonia

In art, the theme of the modern woman intertwined with new art trends: Expressionism, Art Deco and New Objectivity.

Urban life, which was sometimes depicted grotesquely, reflected the changed relationships of the sexes, among other things.

Creating the Self - Exhibition View by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

Multi-layered Spaces

The ways of depicting space in the artworks by women artists constantly changed over the years. 

Interior (1938) by Klara ZeidlerArt Museum of Estonia

Often women depicted, or even provided detailed documentations, of their own living environments.

Interior, Klara Zeidler, 1921, From the collection of: Art Museum of Estonia
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Balcony, Klara Zeidler, 1920/1939, From the collection of: Art Museum of Estonia
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Interior (1927/1930) by Lydia MeiArt Museum of Estonia

The treatment of space became especially multi-faceted in the works that establish a dialogue between interiors and the outside world.

Space was not simply a place devoid of humans, but, through everyday details (e.g. shadows, doors ajar, windows and solitary static figures) became emotional, narrative and dramatic.

Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

The depiction of living environments reflected the gradual enlargement of the space that women could operate in and the expansion of their spatial perception.

Among other things, emancipation also meant creating space for themselves.

Interior (1957) by Linda Kits-MägiArt Museum of Estonia

Creating the Self - Exhibition View (2020-01) by Hedi Jaansoo (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

Uncanny

By intertwining Art Nouveau and Expressionism, these works served as emotional forerunners of the art that reflected the anxious times during and after World War II.

Creating the Self - Exhibition View by Stanislav Stepashko (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

Creating the Self - Exhibition View by Stanislav Stepashko (photographer)Art Museum of Estonia

By intertwining Art Nouveau and Expressionism, these works served as emotional forerunners of the art that reflected the anxious times during and after World War II.

Women and children, who demonstrate the fragility of people caught in the whirlwind of great historical events, were often used in art to express anguish and a sense of loneliness.

Night, Olga Terri, 1947, From the collection of: Art Museum of Estonia
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In Soviet Estonia during the late 1940s and early 1950s, when art was subordinated to ideological control, Olga Terri was one of the few artists who dared to depict a world shaped by fear and uncertainty.

Fear, Olga Terri, 1949, From the collection of: Art Museum of Estonia
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Creating the Self - Exhibition BannerArt Museum of Estonia

Credits: Story

The exhibition has been organised in collaboration with Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki.

Curators: Tiina Abel, Anu Allas
Advisor: Anu Utriainen (Ateneum)
Coordinators: Karin Pastak, Katja Ikäläinen (Ateneum), Minna Erwe (Ateneum)
Exhibition design: Nele Šverns, Mari Hunt (b210)
Exhibition graphic design: Aadam Kaarma

With the support of Cultural Endowment of Estonia, Cobalt, Kaubamaja, Tallink, Nordic Hotel, Hotel Palace, Akzo Nobel, Data Print

We thank:
Tartu Art Museum, Tartu City Museum, Estonian National Museum, University of Tartu Museum, Estonian History Museum, Estonian Theatre and Music Museum, Tallinn City Museum, Estonian Museum of Applied Art and Design, Viljandi Museum, Pärnu Museum, Haapsalu and Läänemaa Museums, Museums of Virumaa, Hiiumaa Museums, Rios Art Gallery and Rundāle Palace Museum

Artists:
Mari Adamson, Ellinor Aiki, Aino Alamaa, Nora Anderson, Ida Anton-Agu, Ann Audova, Aino Bach, Dagmar Bette-Punga, Helmi Biese, Elisabeth Blomqvist, Erna von Brinckmann, Irina Bržesskaja, Fanny Churberg, Ina Colliander, Elin Danielson-Gambogi, Erna Deeters, Pauline Dellingshausen, Marie Dücker, Valli Eller, Adele Ennus, Leesi Erm, Ida Fielitz, Hilda Flodin, Alexandra Frosterus-Såltin, Dagmar Furuhjelm, Charlotte Margarethe Elisabeth von Gavel, Karin Grabby-Matthiessen-Baritsch, Sigrid Granfelt, Hilda Eloise Granstedt, Marie Gretsch, Gunvor Grönvik, Elsa Grünverk, Julie Hagen Schwarz, Ester Helenius, Henriette Helffreich, Linda Hermann-Liiv, Greta Hällfors-Sipilä, Tove Jansson, Edla Jansson-Blommér, Amanda Jasmin, Wilhelmine Jordan, Vanda Juhansoo, Elise Jung-Stilling, Silvia Jõgever, Hilda Kamdron, Ada Kangur-Jürisson, Linda Kits-Mägi, Erna Kreischmann, Õie Krusten, Ede Kurrel, Helmi Kuusi, Anna Elisabeth von Krüdener, Kaja Kärner, Bertha Kühnert, Sally von Kügelgen, Lydia Laas, Anna Laigo-Lukats, Renate Laiv-Põlendik, Silvia Leitu, Pauline-Elfriede Leps-Estam, Lola Liivat, Anna Luik-Püüman, Amélie Lundahl, Karin Luts, Anna Elisabeth von Maydell, Eveline von Maydell, Lydia Mei, Kristine Mei, Natalie Mei, Leili Muuga, Berta Mäger, Ella Mätik, Agnes Ney, Victorine Nordenswan, Hilda Orgusaar, Saima Paabo, Olga von der Pahlen, Maria von der Pahlen, Leida Palu, Ada Pender, Tuulikki Pietilä, Ellinor Piipuu, Anna Triik-Põllusaar, Veera Raskal, Salme Raunam, Helene Reichardt, Helda Reimo, Adele Reindorff, Linda Tartland-Rivis, Erika Roots, Lydia Christine von Ruckteschell, Elsbeth Rudolff, Mari Rääk, Sigrid Schauman, Helene Schjerfbeck, Wilhelmine Schwank, Elga Sesemann, Ida Silfverberg, Mari Simulson, Venny Soldan-Brofeldt, Beda Stjernschantz, Juuli Suits, Helmi Suusik-Lauk, Klara Zeidler, Helene Marie Zoege von Manteuffel, Magda Zoege von Manteuffel, Olga Terri, Ellen Thesleff, Ada Thilén, Jenny Tobiesen, Salome Trei, Anna von Ungern-Sternberg, Sophie von Ungern-Sternberg (snd von Wahl), Jenny Uttar, Lydia Vademan-Jans, Lüüdia Vallimäe-Mark, Silvia Vasmuth, Agathe Veeber, Helve Viidalepp, Anna von Wahl, Nora Wahl, Dora Wahlroos, Lilly Walther, Marie Walther, Helena Westermarck, Constance von Wetter-Rosenthal, Maria Wiik, Edith Wiklund, Alexandrine von Wistinghausen, Lily Wrangel, Helene von Wrangell, Victoria Åberg

Credits: All media
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