Gerda Thesleff was born in Helsinki, Finland in 1871 and she became a pioneer as one of the first studio ceramists in Finland.
Thesleff initially studied to become a physical therapist in Stockholm but studied at the University School of Arts, Design and Architecture from 1898 to 1906 as well as in 1909-1910, where she was taught by the renowned designer Alfred William Finch. She learned how to turn ceramics, a heavy manual task at the time, and experimented with both her motives and techniques.
She was employed at the ceramic factory Arabia 1922–24, where she worked with designer Elin Juselius and they exhibited together in 1922. At Arabia, Thesleff created pottery decorated with plant and flower motives and decorations inspired by her long trips in Italy with her sister Ellen. Over time she would be overshadowed by her older sister and in documentations she is called an enabler of her sister’s art. After their parents passed away, the sisters were left with small means that enabled Ellen to focus on her art with Gerda as a financial advisor. Gerda also regularly worked as a physical therapist which helped them financially.
In 1897 Gerda Thesleff travelled to Florence for the first time and over the years, she and Ellen would divide their time with other members of their family between Finland and Italy. In 1900 all sisters Thesleff and their mother Lilli travelled to Paris where Ellen was working and Gerda started studying wood sculpture. Their travels would inspire Ellen and Gerda up until 1938 when they visited Florence, Italy for the last time. Gerda fell ill during the trip and they both returned home. She never recovered and passed away at 68 in 1939.
Ellen Thesleff exhibited her lastest work at Salon Stringberg in Helsinki in 1941 and decided to also display Gerda’s ceramics and water paintings. Gerda’s work did however not receive much attention during the lifetime although she practiced as a ceramist for over 30 years. She also worked in other materials such as wood sculptures, leather works and wood cuts.
- Gerda Thesleff
- Represented at the National museums in Helsinki and Stockholm as well as in Collection Kakkonen
- Participated in exhibitions in St. Petersburg and Copenhagen
- Retrospective exhibition in 1999 at the Arabia Museum in Helsinki
- Åsa Hellman: Kiinnostava keraamikko eli elämänsä kuuluisan sisaren, Ellen Thesleffin, varjossa
- Hellman Åsa, Mickwitz Peter, red (2006). Keramikkonsten i Finland. Helsingfors: Söderström. Page 88. ISBN 951-52-2384-9
- Jag målar som en gud – Ellen Thesleffs liv och konst by Hanna-Reetta Schreck