How The Skagen Painters Entered My Life
A Guest Blog
Hello, my name’s Juliette, but I blog as Helsinki-Budapest because right now that’s my life. I moved to Budapest from Helsinki, and am now ready to move back to Helsinki before the end of the year.
I’m what is known as a Cross Culture Kid: French passport, Hungarian heritage on my father’s side, identify as French-American-Hungarian. I speak the language of my mother’s country, even though I feel no ties to it. And I grew up in Germany and America with visits to France. Then came Paris, Hungary, Wales, England, Berlin, and Helsinki. And – presently, for a few more weeks – Budapest again.
It’s funny how we find each other. I saw Maria’s blog while scrolling through comments on another site. I honestly don’t remember which site it was, which is the way it always goes for me when someone I end up connecting with crosses my path, or I theirs. What I can say for sure though is that I love Denmark. Ever since visiting friends there in 1994, I was always drawn to the country. So I started reading Maria’s blog, felt transported into another world, which took me away from the daily stress and was incredibly soothing. We struck up a correspondence, and again I felt that feeling of warmth and calm whenever an email arrived.
Maria has graciously allowed me to share one of my favourite obsessions with Denmark, in this case, its art, and I can only hope that I’m able to do her blog justice. I’m genuinely grateful to Maria for coming into my life and letting me share my thoughts, and I hope that other readers enjoy this little blog at least half as much as I enjoy Maria’s blog.
How The Skagen Painters Entered My Life (and never let go)
The reason I ended up spending a summer in Århus was simple, a scholarship. At that time I’d only had about three months of Danish, and I was thrilled to get to revisit Århus where I’d been once before when a roommate on another scholarship program invited me to stay with her. The reason I ended up mesmerised by the Skagen Painters was slightly less forward, but tied into that scholarship that was responsible for my summer in Århus. It was the organisers’ fault entirely. They were the ones who opened up that particular can of worms. And I’ll be forever grateful to them.
At that time, in 2004, I was doing my Cultural Studies degree at art school in England, with a minor in Creative Writing, so art was very much a thing and all around me. My best friend on the degree program and I would sit in her room with me writing and her painting, feeding off each other. I loved her pictures, the vibrancy, the composition, and I could always create a story around them. And when I was stuck writing my friend would whip up a painting or a quick drawing allowing me to move on.
I loved (and still do), Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí, Turner, Otto Dix, Georg Grosz, and those were just the tip of that proverbial iceberg, the way they told stories and rendered the world around them visible to everyone else, each in their own style, via simplification, color, exaggeration. I also loved Hopper for his realism and naive art in general for the simplicity with which it rendered an ideal.
Yet, as we rounded corner after corner in Aros, I became more and more frustrated because I couldn’t connect with anything. There were great works, marvellous works, in fact, but nothing to relate to, nothing I wanted to write about or that I could feel.
Until we rounded the corner and there were the fishermen by the sea, the women on the beach, the young girl and old woman at home. I stood there mesmerised as the guide explained that these were paintings from a place called Skagen, where painters converged over the summers because the light was great and it spelt a return to nature, to one’s own spirit, an ideal. Something that was completely fake, the guide went on – for the wives could never be sure their fishermen husbands would ever return, much less haul in a good catch – but in the pictures they were all smiling and laughing, “ooh look what an adventure we’re on,” was the message they intended to convey.
The Skagen Painters, the guide went on to explain, painted the world as they wished to see it. Nature was an ideal to them, as were the people who depended on it. And that’s all I needed to hear. I was hooked, the desire to go there, to Skagen, started that moment and has never gone away. The paintings on their own already fascinated me, they were the illustrations I’d subconsciously sought to every Ibsen play I loved (so all); combined with the guide’s comments, they became perfection, the goldmine I didn’t know I’d been seeking. That Ibsen was Norwegian didn’t matter in the least. To me it just illustrated what I’d always known, seeing it in myself, and my Cross-Cultural Kids friends; fusion worked best when you let it develop naturally.