Tag Archives: Danish art

Peder Severin Krøyer – Summer Evening on the Skagen Beach

9 Sep

“I’m the lonely voyager standing on deck, and she’s the sea. The sky is a blanket of gray, merging with the gray sea off on the horizon. It’s hard to tell the difference between sea and sky. Between voyager and sea. Between reality and the workings of the heart.” (Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore)

Peder Severin Krøyer, Summer Evening on the Skagen Southern Beach with Anna Ancher and Marie Krøyer, 1893

What I love about this painting is that it reminds me of music, an echo of soft fairy whispers mingled with fading notes of the piano… and then silence. It has a gentleness and stillness that sends our mind into a reverie, or inspires us to contemplate on eternity in a similar way that Caspar David Friedrich’s landscapes do. Here Krøyer painted the most melancholy and profound moment of the day: twilight with its endless dreamy blueness. The soft meandering line which separates the world of sea waves with the white sand of the coast is very dreamy because it suggest infinity and leads the viewer’s eye towards unknown distances. Two ladies are walking slowly right near that dreamy line, one can feel the water touching their dresses when the wave comes or see their footsteps appearing after each step in the wet sand. The colour palette is particularly dreamy as well, aerial, soft and gentle with plenty of white, grey, blue and hints of toned yellow in the sand and on the dresses. They are walking arm in arm, in intimate conversation, just two figures walking towards infinity. Without the figures, this painting would be yet another landscape, but with the figures added in, the painting gets an emotional depth, ironically, the inclusion of figures reminds us of the loneliness of the beach. Two lone figures, might as well be ghosts in white gowns, for their faces we cannot see, walking slowly and leaving barely a trace of their existence.

Skagen is Denmark’s northernmost town and is closer to the coast of Sweden than to Copenhagen. In Krøyer’s time it was a remote fishers village whose understated beauty is revealed through the eyes of the group of painter appropriately called “The Skagen Artists”. Nowadays, Krøyer is the most well-known from this group, but they were all interested in similar themes; the beauty of the cold northern sea, fishers and harvests, and, in a manner similar to the Impressionists, they meticulously devoted themselves to portraying the effects of sunlight and people having fun, mostly their families and friends. Below we have a similar painting by Michael Archer, a fellow painter from the Skagen group of artists. Again, it has that gorgeous immeasurable lightness and a long clear diagonal line between the sandy beach and the sea, how romantically it stretches on and on. Lonely mood is toned down because of the five female figures in pastel coloured dresses, but a hint of melancholy is left in the face of the girl who treads the beach first, gazing down at the sand, lost in thoughts, following the shadow that falls in front of her.

Michael Ancher, A stroll on the beach, 1896

I imagine that the seaside looks exquisite this time of the year; I imagine the soft sand untainted by human footsteps, the sky clear and grey-blue, not even a seagull is flying by. Smell of salt hangs in the melancholy air. When I gaze at these paintings, I can almost hear the waves playing Debussy’s “La Mer”, soothing my soul with each passing note… And there in the distance, the sky and the sea are becoming one in a kiss.

Carl Holsøe – Gateway to Infinity

22 Jul

Carl Vilhelm Holsøe is a somewhat undervalued artist. His paintings aren’t really colourful or daring, his brushstrokes aren’t too decadent or passionate, his themes are already seen but there is something about these paintings that keeps puzzling me ever since that morning of 19th June. I remember it clearly; the rapture I felt because I’ve re-discovered some interesting artists, and full of enthusiasm I spent the entire morning half-mesmerised half-intrigued by Holsøe’s paintings, amongst other things. A month has passed, and these paintings continue to intrigue me.

1900s Carl Holsoe (Danish, 1863-1935) - Girl standing on a Balcony Carl Holsoe (Danish, 1863-1935) – Girl standing on a Balcony

Carl Vilhelm Holsøe was a Danish artist, famous for his interior scenes. A son of an architect, Carl attended Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. He was famous during his lifetime not only in Denmark, but also in other Scandinavian countries. His paintings are often seen as brilliant extensions of the works of the seventeenth century masters, Vermeer most notably.

Holsoe’s paintings all follow a similar pattern: they’re usually very light, radiating the simplicity and bourgeois tastes in furniture and decoration, women or children bathed in soft daylight coming through the windows, dark and serious mahogany chests, chairs or tables, soft lights curtains, and modest details such as books, teapots, picture frames, and flowers. These domestic interiors radiate serenity, peacefulness and mystery. Doors and windows play a great role in most of his paintings.

I thinks they’re something more than just doors; they are passage ways, a transition, connection between two opposites. Aldous Huxley wrote “There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.” Holsøe’s doors and windows suggest a new worlds outside the domestic comfort of his clean Scandinavian living rooms and corridors, but he leaves the viewer with only a hint for we do not know what wonders or troubles hide behind those wide white doors to unknown.

1900s Carl Holsoe - Interior with GardenCarl Holsoe – Interior with Garden

1900s Carl Holsoe 5Carl Holsoe – The Open Window

1900s Carl Holsoe 4

Holsøe places a major emphasis on the play of lights and shadows and he is very detailed in that aspect. Just notice how carefully and gently he painted those white curtains, white is also the hardest colours to paint, and the soft yellowish light peeking through the curtains. In some paintings, the painter gives us a hint of the sunny day outside, flowers and exuberant nature, while the others show a brown and dull scenery, possibly Autumn. In the last painting I’ve presented here, Holsoe again indulged himself with lights and shadows, and painted one of those calm days when the sky is not engulfed in threatening grey clouds but it’s not sunny either, and the light in the house takes greenish shades, especially against the wonderful white walls and doors.

1900s Carl Vilhelm Holsøe (Danish, 1863-1935) Interior Carl Vilhelm Holsøe (Danish, 1863-1935) Interior

1900s Carl Holsoe - Interior with a CelloCarl Holsoe – Interior with a Cello

The figures in his paintings are mostly women and children, but they’re unimportant in this context which we can assume by the way he painted them – very blurry, turning their back on the viewer. His women are engrossed in their own activities; they are shown reading books, writing letters or simply sitting by the window and looking outside, or waiting by the white doors in a greenish light of a serene day. Their face expressions, their thoughts or feelings are unknown to us for they are irrelevant in these paintings, and like the furniture their role is to beautify the interior and bring focus to a subject that matters – doors and windows. In the painting Interior with Garden Holsoe used an interesting composition: we see a window but only through the open doors.

1900s Carl Holsoe 8

1900s Carl Vilhelm Holsoe 1

1900s Carl Holsoe 6

But again that magic and uncertainty of the unknown puzzles me. What hides behind these windows? What is their purpose in all of these paintings? Maybe what lies behind these windows and doors is the infinity itself. Mysteries, secrets, and a gateway. William Blake said ‘If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.