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Danish Genius

Krøyer fiskere trækker vod
Fishermen hauling nets, North Beach, Skagen, 1883

Peder Severin Krøyer was a Danish Painter born in Norway on July 23, 1851. He was a key member of the so-called Skagen Painters, a group of en plein air artists from Northern Denmark who took a more Realist style that emphasized figures and fishermen, rather than the predominant Impressionism that swept France during the same period. Although Krøyer studied in Europe and especially Paris during this time, his style has an immediacy and presence that is warm and inviting, closer in style to Sorolla but with an emphasis on adults and families. He uses a very earthy palette leaning towards greens and yellows, but it is his use of light that is captivating.

In Fishermen hauling nets above, we see a strong sense of movement and physicality that is not often portrayed in artwork of fishermen. We can actually feel the struggle of them tugging hard on that net, all seven of them, with their feet pressing deeply into the wet sand as the sun sets off to the left of the frame, casting a warm glow on their wet clothing. Note how Krøyer composed this scene. He groups the men into groups of two, spacing each group differently, and with different color contrasts so as not to tire the eye.

Observe how Krøyer's palette shifts from left to right from cool to warm. He uses a clever "w" shape composition of the figures:

I love the slick texture of that brownish-red sand with the greenish hues underneath. This was much more than just a painter of fishermen.

Peder Severin Krøyer - A the victualler's when there is no fishing - Google Art Project
At the victualler's when there is no fishing, 1882

This is probably one of the most beautiful paintings ever created on the theme of fishing. Krøyer addresses the plight of fishermen as other great artists have, such as Sorolla with stark, moody interior light in a small community represented in this room of disillusioned faces. Krøyer's subtle social commentary on this fishing community revolves around inactivity and waiting, where the identity of these men revolves around their work and how it feeds the community, right down to the children in the foreground. Here Krøyer has a keen understanding of personality and character that reflects in the body language and action of each figure in his paintings, which he gives a certain palette and style of dress to identify who they might be. Krøyer knows that observation of people is everything in painting figures, and how they are arranged and interact with their immediate environment can make or break the painting.

Hipp hipp hurra! Konstnärsfest på Skagen - Peder Severin Krøyer
Hip, hip, hurra!, 1888

I love the notion of toasts in painting, and this one is no exception. The use of one point perspective pulls us in. Reminiscent of another great painting by Adrien Moreau, Toast to the Heir Presumptive, here Krøyer focuses on the faces amidst the dappled sunlight streaming through the foliage. It is not immediately clear why these people are drinking champagne in the middle of the day outside but obviously something warranted a cheerful celebration. It has the immediacy of making us want to be there at the table, celebrating with them. Note how Krøyer places the women's heads on the same horizontal eye-level, while the men are also roughly on the same level, the only difference being the women are seated while the men are standing. This may indicate the traditional social standing of gender and propriety at that time, but here the overall setting is happy and warm.

Peder Severin Krøyer - Osteria in Ravello. - Google Art Project
Osteria in Ravello, 1890

A beautiful warm light bathes this interior of a very rustic osteria in southern Italy. Here Krøyer appears to be channeling Sargeant, who was a contemporary of his although it is not known whether the two actually met. Krøyer has a distinct eye for texture which can be seen in the tarnished beams and arched wall above the entrance and in the brushwork of the bar and the floor, where he combines both cool and warm tones. I like how even in this simple composition Krøyer both tells a story and uses sharp visual contrast: by grouping the figures at the table on the left and having the two men behind the bar on the right facing opposite directions, one lighting his pipe while the other gazes at the figures at the table. The men appear to be either playing cards, each figure concentrating on his own world. Even the figure outside is curious as to what is happening. Krøyer has a motif of community and social gatherings in his work that makes us mindful of the everyday activity in our own lives. Had Krøyer lived long enough to see our present world of faces buried in cell phones one can only imagine the type of work he would have painted.

Peder Severin Krøyer - A luncheon. The artist, his wife and the writer Otto Benzon - Google Art Project
A luncheon. The artist, his wife and the writer Otto Benzon, 1893

I love this painting. It appears more like a scene from a film than a painting. Krøyer himself is on the far left having a casual discussion over breakfast or lunch with Danish author and playwright Otto Benzon, while Krøyer's wife listens intently in the middle. Krøyer uses a distinct palette for all three of them, from deep blue to warm yellow to a cool gray, which he echoes visually in the walls behind them. Note the very subtle hues of the tablecloth that he paints. Again, everyday life is what fascinates Krøyer, and here he makes it intriguing to watch as we see Benzon in the middle of a sentence and we wonder what they might be talking about. The way Krøyer uses this warm and cool balanced palette with his clever use of interior space makes us feel like we are in the room having lunch with them. Nothing dramatic is occurring here. Yet it pulls us in.

Below are some examples of Krøyer's Impressionist portraits with dazzling brushwork and astute grasp of personality and character:

P.S. Krøyer - Fritz Stoltenberg - Google Art Project

P.S. Krøyer - Vilhelm Rosenstand - Google Art Project

P.S. Krøyer - Oscar Björck - Google Art Project

Italian village hatters, 1880

This dramatic and uncharacteristic chiaroscuro work of Krøyer reminds me of Velázquez, for some reason. Krøyer has a deep respect for the working man and how it affects the community and children, and in this poignant scene he exemplifies this perfectly. I love that ray of sunlight breaking through the darkness of this sweaty worker and his small children who probably don't earn very much but take pride in their work and their lives. There is no sense of indignity in their faces, in fact, they seem rather content. There is something healing in this concept that hard work benefits the soul in a way that transcends money, despite the spartan environment. Krøyer is an astute observer of human nature and of community, that people are more important than things, and that we are all part of the fabric of daily life beyond materialism. We are what we do on a daily basis. This is the simple yet powerful genius of Krøyer.


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