Henriette Sjöberg was a painter, graphic artist, and a drawing instructor.
Henriette Sjöberg was born in Linköping in 1842. She grew up in Stockholm. When she was 17 years old she enrolled at Slöjdskolan (the school of traditional handicrafts), which had just opened to female students the previous year. She spent about ten years there studying whilst also engaged in other employment. She was successful in her artistic endeavours and was rewarded with a bronze and a silver medal for drawing and engraving.
From the time she became a student at the school and right up to 1875 Henriette Sjöberg worked as an engraver for the Karl Ström och Carl Gustaf Höglind lithographic company. Through this company she met Professor Bergianus, Nils Johan Andersson, and she began to paint watercolours of the plant world under the guidance of Andersson’s wife, Anna Tigerhielm, who was an artist in her own right. Nils Johan Andersson employed Henriette Sjöberg as an illustrator at the Kongl. Lantbruksakademien (royal agricultural academy), partly in order to illustrate diseased plants. Her drawings were very instructive and were eventually printed in publications released by the academy and in the Svenska trädgårdsförening (Swedish gardening society) journal.
Between 1880 and 1896 Henriette Sjöberg was involved in the major Svenska kulturväxter project which sought to develop knowledge about the appearance of cultivated plants so that they could be better described and practical advice could be provided with regard to their characteristics and growth value. The intention was to produce colour plates of all native Swedish plants as part of a major book project which would comprise around 600 plates. However, the project was never completed and was abandoned when it was still 200 plates short. This coincided with the rapid development of plant breeding which rendered it impossible to generate a completely comprehensive overview. Henriette Sjöberg’s watercolours mainly covered the cereals but also included potatoes, beets, carrots, pears, plums, gooseberries, currants, strawberries, raspberries and more. The plates were produced in watercolours and give an impression of scientific accuracy whilst still retaining a sense of artistic freedom. The plants were portrayed in their entirety and in detail. They could be combined in artistically pleasing themes, including magnified greenery in the background, rendering an almost three-dimensional aspect to the images. These watercolours convey a finely-tuned eye for nature and meticulous attention to detail, which was something of a trademark of Henriette Sjöberg. They can be seen today (2017) as part of the Nordiska museet collections, whilst the odd example can also be found elsewhere.
Once the project had been abandoned Henriette Sjöberg turned her attention towards completing a hundred “botanical wall plates”, namely school plates for the AB P.A. Norstedt & Söner publishing house. She also continued to work as a documenter for the Svenska trädgårdsföreningen project entitled Svenska fruktsorter i färgglada afbildningar, published in 1899 and 1912, two volumes each year, comprising six plates. In 1912 everything was collated in a larger volume, including descriptions and images of apples, pears, cherries, and plums. It became famous both within Sweden and abroad and turned Henriette Sjöberg into a well-known name well beyond the sphere of botanical sciences.
In 1901 Henriette Sjöberg was employed as an ordinary drawing and painting instructor at the Kungl. Lantbruksakademien gardening school based at the experimental field. She spent the rest of her life working there. During the 1890s there were several women working at the scientific testing department of the experimental field: two chemists named Märta Rubin, from Stockholms högskola (college), and Eva Nordenskiöld, from Helsinki university, as well as the non-academically trained Henriette Sjöberg and Svea Knutson. The latter two both worked as documenters at a time when plates and herbaria served as scientific and pedagogic tools.
Henriette Sjöberg’s contributions through her documentary work is still relevant today. Without documentary evidence of, for example, the potato types of her day by now they would be forgotten and their appearance unknown. Further, these documents serve as material evidence of the earlier biological research.
Henriette Sjöberg died in Stockholm in 1915. Her grave lies at the Norra cemetery in Solna.