'Her [Schjerfbeck's] work from the 1920s and 1930s represents not only the fulfilment, the culmination of her life's work. It is as if she only now had entirely taken possession of the world of colour...From this starting point she submits even her own earlier work to revision. Again and again, especially in the late 20s, she reworks her old paintings' (G. Johansson, Helene Schjerfbecks Konst, Stockholm 1940, p. 37).
It was Gösta Stenman who, sometime after 1925, suggested that Schjerfbeck should re-interpret her more important pictures. There were always nuances or colours that could be altered or an interpretation that could be rendered differently. This was a creatively satisfying method of working, allowing Schjerfbeck to further develop her minimalist approach of condensed simplification. The gatekeeper's daughter is a return to a subject from her days studying at the Académie Colarossi in Paris, French peasant girl from 1883 (Ateneum, 1992, no. 68). Einar Reuter recalls that 'she wanted to paint a replica of a work from her youth from the Colarossi period, the girl with a pink cap. She asks Magnus [her brother] to advertise it, she very much wants to buy it back' (H. Ahtela, Helena Schjerfbeck, Helsingfors 1953, pp. 243-4). Schjerfbeck was unable to purchase the work but she did find a new model, 17 year old Irja, whom she describes as blond and light, just the type she was looking for. Irja is most probably the substitute for the peasant girl of the 1883 picture which Schjerfbeck could not locate and would seem to be the model for the present work.
'But it is the visage of the human being that dominates the art of Helene Schjerfbeck. She never painted portraits in the normal sense, and she most certainly would not have been satisfied with tasks so contrary to her method of working, of endlessly experimenting, balancing, rejecting, resuming and renewing' (G. Johansson, op. cit., p. 39). The face had become increasingly important in Schjerfbeck's painting, never conveying a particular person, rather establishing a generic human essence. In this respect, as well as in its conscious formality combined with the artist's emotional input, The gatekeeper's daughter has much in common with Schjerfbeck's self-portraiture. The subject lowers her eyes in a shy, modest pose, concealing her thoughts while betraying through the stiff collar around her neck a sense of pride and formality.
The gatekeeper's daughter conveys an aristocratic air, so contrary to its title and yet so typical of the artistic refinement of Schjerfbeck's portraits. The contrasts inherent in the artist's own temperament are reflected in the painting; the conflict between sweet and stern, between sensualism and asceticism, at once cool and passionate. The utmost delicacy in the treatment of the colour and the many tones and layers of beige and pink bear witness to Schjerfbeck's obsession with colour in the late 20s. Colour and line appear as one, but also remain separate, without mixing or transmuting.