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Laurits Andersen Ring often painted the small village of Baldersbrønde on Zealand, Denmark’s largest island, where he lived for a number of years. This painting is a fine example of his unsentimental approach to the realities of rural life. He uses an almost monochrome colour scheme to create a bleak winter scene. Despite the apparent simplicity of the painting, Ring demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of composition and perspective, as the strong diagonals of the road, hedge and line of trees are countered by the verticals of each tree and the upward thrust of the steep roofs.
The frame is almost certainly original, its simple format based upon a design favoured at the Copenhagen Salon’s annual exhibition around the turn of the century. It was specifically made for the painting when it was shown in a highly influential exhibition of contemporary Scandinavian art, which opened in New York in 1912 before touring the USA.
When he painted this village scene in 1912 Laurits Andersen Ring was already established as one of Denmark’s foremost painters. Trained at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, like many of his fellow artists he received a travel grant to study in Italy, where he stayed from 1893 to 1895. Although a highly successful portrait painter, it was landscapes, usually without figures, that increasingly preoccupied him from the late 1880s. He often painted the small village of Baldersbrønde on Zealand, Denmark’s largest island, where he lived for a number of years in the old school building.
This painting is a fine example of Ring’s unsentimental approach to the realities of rural life. An unpaved road leads our eye into the distance. On the right is a row of bare trees and a leafless brown hedge, and in the middle distance a few simple houses, their roofs covered in snow. Although most of the windows are not shuttered, no light comes from them, there is no smoke from the chimneys and no footprints in the surrounding snow. The mood of desolation is partly the result of the picture’s almost monochrome colour scheme, which is largely restricted to tones of white, blue-grey and yellow-browns. Even the wintry sky seems to be a continuation of the ground.
Despite the apparent simplicity of the scene, Ring demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of composition and perspective, as the strong diagonals of the road, hedge and line of trees are countered by the verticals of each tree and the upward thrust of the steep roofs. This vertical effect is reinforced by placing the trees close to the picture’s edge, where their stark outlines are echoed by the clean lines of the simple frame. The frame is based is upon a design favoured at the Copenhagen Salon’s annual exhibition around the turn of the century. It is almost certainly the original frame, which was specifically made for the painting when it was exhibited in the USA as part of an exhibition of contemporary Scandinavian art in 1912.
Ring sympathised with nationalist initiatives to create a distinctly Danish art that showed typical landscapes and historic buildings as well as traditional rural ways of life that were beginning to disappear. But he also looked to nineteenth-century French painters, such as Jean-François Millet and Gustave Courbet, who painted everyday life in a vigorous, naturalistic way. Yet alongside this social realism, there are also elements of symbolism in Ring’s paintings that hint at deeper themes. Roads and pathways – as well as creeks, rivers and estuaries – that lead us into and out of paintings often appear in his art and perhaps symbolise human life as a journey. In later life, Ring rejected religion and became interested in new scientific ideas, especially Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. He was particularly preoccupied with the opposing forces of life and death. This quiet village, set in a bleak landscape, may be a portent of death. But perhaps it also shows a necessary episode within the cycle of life, as lifeless winter will eventually give way to spring.
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