For this comparison in my occasional “paintings and photographs” series, I’m once again sharing my favorite Norwegian painter, Johan Christian Dahl. His subjects, landscapes, and colors sure speak to me!
Here’s a little background to offer historical perspective, paraphrased from a conversation with my Norwegian husband:
Norway is a beautiful country, but the coastlines, mountains, and fjords can be very dangerous. For centuries, Norwegians on the coast earned their living by fishing. In modern times there are huge trawlers who sail out in the big seas, but if we go back two or three hundred years there were only small row boats, maybe with a small sail. The rough seas were deadly, but fishermen had to go out.
During a visit to Lofoten, one of the most beautiful yet dangerous places to live in Norway, I met a young woman who told me a story her mother shared with her. The weather was rough, the menfolk had gone out to fish, and her mother was sitting in the kitchen at the table drinking coffee and looking out the window at the big waves and harsh winds. She could see the boat with her husband and her son. Because of the waves she could only see them from time to time. She saw that one of them had fallen out of the boat, and that was the last she ever saw of them. They disappeared.
I met an old priest on Lofoten. There are a number of small cemeteries there, and he took me to a few and showed me that, in earlier days, no men were buried in the ground. They were all drowned at sea.
With that brief insight, can you feel the reality and emotions of the women as they waited for their men? Uncertainty, fear, hardships, relief, hunger, fright. Gazing at the sea, straining for the first sight of a sail or boat. Not knowing if they’d return safely, or if the days would pass with only a gaping and empty sea. Days and days of this.
While thinking about the experience of those emotions, here’s Dahl’s painting:
A little boat, a fisherman, a wife and mother, a child. It looks as if there’s a threatening storm in the distance. The moon is out; is it setting or rising? They seem so close, one in a tiny boat and two on the rocks. The wind in the sails indicates the boat is approaching the shore. How long have they been waiting? The fishermen went out at three or four in the morning, and were usually home by noon. It’s very late. They’ve had a rough wait.
Can you imagine the emotions they were feeling?
Living where I do, I don’t have any photos of a cold moon over the sea, just those with the warmth of it rising or setting, or hanging in the sky over the mountains. But I have several images that, combined, give a glimpse of this seaside reality that Dahl painted: moon, anchor, water, boulders, boat, clouds.
Obviously I get pulled into an artist’s mind when I study his artwork. What paintings have you seen where you also experience such a strong emotional connection?
Shelley, a favorite blogger, added a comment to this post that needs to be part of the original:
Your post reminded me of a Newfoundland poem.”Erosion” (1931) by E.J. Pratt
It took the sea a thousand years,
A thousand years to trace
The granite features of this cliff,
In crag and scarp and base.
It took the sea an hour one night,
An hour of storm to place
The sculpture of these granite seams
Upon a woman’s face.
Yeah, teaching Newfie kids whose family were fishermen was tough. You’d get the principal on the intercom asking you to send a student down to the office. Everyone would start crying. Everyone knew. Awful.