The authenticity of this work has been confirmed by Leena Ahtola-Moorhouse, Chief Curator at the Finnish National Gallery.
It is perhaps in the portraits of children, as much as in her self-portraits, that Schjerfbeck's art is at its most expressive and uninhibited. Throughout her life, Schjerfbeck was continually hampered by a lack of suitable models for her depictions of the human visage, leading her to experiment with self-portraiture and with classical antecedents, as well as to re-interpret many of her earlier compositions. Her search for models also led her to paint local children; it is likely that Paavo was a neighbour of Schjerfbeck's in Hyvinkää where she was living in 1912 and where she would first meet Gösta Stenman in 1913 and Einar Reuter (pseud. H. Ahtela) in 1915. Schjerfbeck was fascinated by the human face and it is her unique ability to succinctly portray so many facets of human character and emotion that dominate her art. Paavo captures a generic essence of the freshness and purity of childhood.
Despite the simplicity of the subject, the composition of Paavo displays a complexity and subtlety that is typical of Schjerfbeck's work of this time. The dark expanse of Paavo's black hair, so reminiscent of Schjerfbeck's depictions of The Woodcutter (1910-1912; Ahtela 373, 375, 377) or the red haired girl in Sisters of 1913 (Ahtela 393), complements the quick spare lines that describe his facial features. Furthermore the charcoal lines framing the hair at the lower edge and at the right are continued through the chin and shoulders creating a flowing line that leads the eye throughout the entire composition. This is in turn echoed by the gradation of areas of pure colour; the eye is led downwards from the black hair, through the green shirt and finally into the pale trousers, a pictorial device unusual in Schjerfbeck's work that recalls the use of light and dark in The costume picture of 1909 (Ahtela 346; Ateneum, Helsinki).
The moniker PAAVO - inscribed at the upper left and faintly incised to the right of the boy's head - is an unusual addition in Schjerfbeck's work and may stem from her interest in the work of Holbein and Renaissance portraiture engendered by her trips to Paris in the 1880s and to St. Petersburg and Vienna in the early 1890s (see Copy of Holbein's painting Sir Richard Southwell, 1886, Ahtela 168, Ateneum, Helsinki and Copy of Holbein's painting John Chambers, 1894, Ahtela 251, Ateneum, Helsinki). Indeed, there are only two other known instances of this type of titling; Maria from 1909 (Ahtela 359; Amos Anderson Art Museum, Helsinki) and Self-portrait with black background of 1915 (Ahtela 414; Ateneum, Helsinki). In this latter work the inscription is an unusually confident self-proclamation by an artist just beginning to be recognised and acclaimed. In both Paavo and Maria the inscription is a simple label, ascribing importance to the sitter's identity when Schjerfbeck's usual approach is to subjugate identity but to retain individuality in order to portray a generic humanity.