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

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 thecentral figure in Blomqvist’s series of lush, dramatically lit photographs that twist the idea ofdocumentary portraiture. The romantic settings—interiors characterized by hardwood floors, old-fashioned molding, andpatterned wallpaper—are flooded with muted sunshine and dreamy, surreal details such as whitebirds in flight. And then there’s Florentine herself: diminutive and delicate, swathed in a regalwhite dress in one photograph, in a fluffy white bathrobe in another. Only upon closerinspection 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 recallsMiss Havisham’s cobweb-collecting wedding banquet in Great Expectations. In To theMoon…and Home (2016), the piled-up old newspapers are reminiscent of Dickens’ plates andcutlery, still placed on the banquet table. They suggest fantasy, delirium, and melancholy, aretreat from reality into the world of memories. In The Ivory Dress (2016), Florentine looksdressed up for a party that may or may not be happening. Though Florentine isn’t physically present in each work, a similar sun-dappled romanticismruns through them all. Blomqvist is a master of light; the city buildings are ethereal, almostglowing. In these works, as in the photographs of the titular ballerina, we perceive somethingbeautiful but mournful—a sense of longing for a more elegant past. We can’t be sure whetherthe images represent Florentine’s past or merely her rose-tinted recollections of it.

—Bridget Gleeson
Apr 8th, 2016