Michael Ancher - The lifeboat in the dunes

by Julia Kynast


This large-scale oil painting by the Danish painter Michael Ancher (1849-1927) is part of an extensive series of works and shows a theme with which the artist was engaged over a period of more than 20 years. During this time, the painter lived in the far north of Denmark, in the small fishing village of Skagen. There, where industrialization progressed only slowly, a small artists' colony had formed. Away from the established art scene of Copenhagen, the artists found their way back to nature behind the rough dunes of northern Jutland. But the Skagen painters were not primarily concerned with creating an idyllic world of motifs. Rather, their paintings reveal the everyday themes, the unadorned social connections, and the recurring realities of the people in the town.

The painting depicts a larger group of sailors. They pull, on a stormy cold winter day, with the help of some horses, a lifeboat through the dunes down to the sea. They wear the typical for fishermen wide-brimmed hat, which protects the head and neck from wind and rain, sturdy shoes and wide weatherproof pants. Heavy dark clouds hang low over the scenery. The dense reeds as well as the ground are covered with ice and snow. In the far right corner, barely visible, is the distressed ship that has run onto a sandbar and whose crew needs to be rescued. A dangerous job that usually took the most experienced sailors of the place. Michael Ancher, who lived and worked among the seamen, shows in the painting part of their history. He reveals their tense and worried faces as they go about their rescue mission, an activity the artist had often observed.


In the execution of the painting, the painter was still guided by the learned academic painting style, but away from biblical motifs, he attempts to portray an unadorned, "true" and contemporary realism. In doing so, Ancher dealt with the French realist art movement as well as with the artists Gustave Courbet and JeanFrançois Millet.


Michael Ancher - The lifeboat in the dunes

Oil on canvas, 1883, 171 x 211 cm, Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen

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