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© Johannes Larsen / VISDA. Photo: Ole Akhøj

John Larsen

'Swell at Kerteminde Bay'


It’s almost like being out there on the water yourself. The wave rises in a man-high painting that is almost three meters wide. You are surrounded by the water and can closely study every single small splash and flash of light in the surface.

The Funen painter Johannes Larsen is actually best known for his pictures of birds. But here he has created an impressive painting by giving the lead role to something as simple as water. One of the museum's art historians, Fleur Wetterholm, tells how.

Why is this painting so remarkable?

“It is both an impressive and an unusual painting. The size alone means that it provides a holistic experience where you feel surrounded by the water. As if you yourself are out there, surrounded by the sparkling sea.

Moreover, it is also unusual for an artist to make a natural phenomenon such as water the main motif in such a large painting. Usually the main motif would be some people or animals, but not here.

Johannes Larsen thus gets an exciting motif out of the split second where the wave reaches its peak. "The big wave" was a motif he worked on for 25 years in several different paintings. So even though he is best known for painting birds, water has also occupied him. ”



Johannes Larsen (1867-1961)

Dated: 1938
Material: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 200 x 282 cm
Acquisition: Purchased 1944


What does Johannes Larsen want with the artwork?

“Johannes Larsen was first and foremost an observer. He would allow us to immerse ourselves in sensations of nature.

Here it is the water. Its life and movement. How it behaves when a wave comes. How light plays in the surface. And how the sky and the sandy bottom are reflected. ”


What does the work of art tell about the time in which it was created?

“It expresses a time-typical urge to return to more unspoiled times. Away from the modern and back to nature and life in the immediate surroundings.

A clue about this is that Johannes Larsen has painted the coastline as it looked 40 years earlier. When he painted the picture in 1938, the mill had long since been demolished, and there were many more houses along the water.

Johannes Larsen was part of the artist colony Fynboerne. They were preoccupied with the near life and nature.

The Fynbom painters had roots in Kerteminde and Faaborg, where they later established themselves as a group in the late 1800s. Plants, animals, birds, landscapes, family life and the people of the countryside were the most common motifs in their art. ”


What characterizes Johannes Larsen's technique?

“He has done several things to put the water in focus. For example, he has made the sky cloudless and calmer in expression so that it does not compete with the water and its play of colors. He has also put sunlight on the wave so that it is clearly highlighted. And then he has put many coats of paint on top of each other and repeated his brushstrokes. It forms the ripples of the water, which becomes an exciting pattern. ”


Three important details according to Fleur Wetterholm:

1.“The swell, the big wave, is interesting because he has chosen the split second where it is at its highest. It provides a moment of tension and a kind of course of action in the image. In a little while it is on its way down again. ”

2.“The coastline that is 40 years too old. One thing is to remove part of the houses to make room for nature. Something else is to insert a mill that is a relic of the past. That says something about Johannes Larsen's nostalgic mindset. ”

3.“That there are only two gulls as the only birds in the picture. And that they have even been given a supporting role. It is quite atypical for Johannes Larsen, who loved to paint birds. ”

Please note that the work is not necessarily exhibited in the museum.

Fleur Wetterholm is an art historian. At Fuglsang Kunstmuseum she hosts guided tours and events.


Note: Danish only