Monday 7 April 2014

Launching the boat

Skagen is a small town at the northern tip of Denmark, at the meeting of the North and Baltic Seas. There was a group of artists living here around the turn of the nineteenth century. A favourite subject was the local folk who worked the sea. One of the Skagen painters, Michael Ancher, painted the fisherman and lifeboat man, Lars Kruse. Kruse had earned a medal for saving many lives, but this was revoked upon discovery that in his youth he had done some illegal beach-combing. Ancher championed his cause, and did several paintings depicting the harsh and heroic lives of the lifeboat men [Chief lifeboatman Lars Kruse, The drowned fisherman, Fishermen launching a rowing boat]. Kruse's medal was eventually reinstated.

Of all the pictures hanging in the Skagens museum (dedicated to the Skagen painters), Oscar Björck's 'Launching the boat' made the biggest impression on me. It is a large canvas, and the size and composition gives the painting a historical feel. Yet the subject is mundane: this journey will not risk any lives. The sea is gentle: the waves are typical of those most frequently found in those sheltered waters.

I like this picture because, perhaps these men manned the lifeboats when duty called, but most of their lives were not heroic or dramatic: there was hard graft, and long hours, yet all of this in beautiful surroundings. This painting is a snap-shot of the everyday lives of people who sometimes did extraordinary things.

I also like this painting because the waves are painted so beautifully. The small wave on the cusp of breaking catches the sunlight in its nearly transparent, green-tinged, crest. The foam hitting the boat is worth the trip to Skagen. An alarm goes off if you look at it too closely, but this really demands admiration. In stark contrast to the surroundings, which are so finely painted they are almost photo-realistic, the foam is done with globs of meringue-peaked paint. From close up, it is a mess. Step back, and it perfectly captures the sense of movement and chaos in the otherwise calm and ordered scene; it suggests the sudden jolt imparted to the boat.

Image credit:

Oscar Björck, Launching the boat, 1884, via Wikimedia Commons:

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the visit and the lovely blog post, we're glad that you enjoyed your stay here :)



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