Elisabet Barnekow was a known portrait painter who campaigned for the equal opportunities of women as artists and citizens. She also played an important role as secretary of Föreningen Svenska Konstnärinnor (an association of Swedish female artists).
Elisabet Barnekow was born in Scania and trained in Stockholm, where she lived for the majority of her adult life. She spent time studying in Paris during the 1890s and, along with her life partner Ida Thoresen, she travelled through Europe, including to Italy and what today is the Czech Republic. She became a known portrait painter during her lifetime and was commissioned by high-ranking individuals including municipal servants, the Swedish nobility, international royalty, and members of the cultural and political elite. In addition to Queen Victoria, and the Marquises of Aberdeen her portraits include cultural celebrities such as Selma Lagerlöf, Frida Stéenhoff, Ellen Hagen, and Victoria Benedictsson. Elisabet Barnekow’s artwork can be found in Swedish national collections at the Swedish Nationalmuseum and the Museum of Sketches for Public Art in Lund.
Elisabet Barnkow was one of the founders of Föreningen Svenska Konstnärinnor and her pioneering activities have left a deep imprint on Swedish art historiography. According to the association’s first chair, Ida von Schulzenheim, the catalyst connecting female artists was the “absolute need and necessity of it”. The existing Konstnärsklubb (artists’ club) was a male-only organisation, and when male artists set up another group called De unga (the young ones) in 1909, once again excluding their female colleagues, this was the final straw. Föreningen Svenska Konstnärinnor was launched in 1910. Elisabet Barnekow served as its secretary and was responsible for the association’s international section. The primary aim of the group was to enable the holding of exhibitions in parity with similar organisations in Paris and Great Britain, and this was extensively put into practise both at a national level and internationally. Elisabet Barnekow was involved in collating several exhibitions of female artists, such as that held at Liljevalch konsthall in Stockholm in 1910 and the Baltic exhibition held in Malmö in 1914.
Female artists were increasingly being excluded from exhibitions, reviews, and books in an ever more restrictive climate. The skewed historiography prevalent during Elisabet Barnekow’s lifetime was worrying on several levels. Towards the end of her life she realised that a vast corpus of knowledge was about to be lost. In conjunction with the curator of the Nationalmuseum, Gertrud Serner, she collated an (incomplete) two-volume dictionary of female artists up until the 1830s. This dictionary now forms part of the Nationalmuseum’s collections. In other words, Elisabet Barnekow’s efforts represent a significant contribution to our knowledge of art history.
Elisabet Barnekow died in Stockholm in 1942. She is buried at Sörby cemetery in Vinslöv parish.