The sardine boats in painting - part 1

Si les peintres du XIXe siècle ont été nombreux à représenter les mutations industrielles ayant marqué la société de leur temps, peu d’entre eux se sont penchés sur le travail industriel féminin le plus précaire et sous payé de l’époque à l’échelle nationale. Les cinq artistes que nous présentons dans cette chronique dominicale méritent de ce fait toute notre attention.

The earliest work, depicting female cannery workers at work, is attributed to one of the greatest masters of Danish painting, Peder Severin Krøyer (1851-1909). As Marianne Mathieu, curator of the monographic exhibition devoted to the artist at the Musée Marmottan Monet in spring-summer 2021, describes it: "A contemporary of Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916), Peder Severin Krøyer is to the open air what his contemporary was to the indoor scene."[1]

A student of Frederik Vermehren at the Royal Danish Academy of Arts from 1861 to 1870, then of Léon Bonnat in Paris between 1877 and 1882, Krøyer began an official career in Copenhagen and Paris. From 1882 onwards, he divided his time between the Danish capital and the fishing village of Skagen where, since 1870, a colony of Scandinavian artists has settled, attracted by the unique play of light in this area at the northern end of Jutland, on the borders of Denmark. There, the currents of the North Sea and the Baltic meet. The area is famous for its clear, crystal-clear light and days when the sun never seems to set as the summer solstice approaches (21 June). Skagen is thus one of the few places where artists can contemplate and paint the appearance of the "blue hour", the meteorological phenomenon that precedes dusk and unfolds especially at the far northern seaside.

Although Krøyer is a painter of exteriors, he is not content to reproduce the surrounding landscape and its play of light to perfection. His paintings are populated with living souls, both idle socialites and hard-working locals. The artist places equal importance on work done in the open air and in the studio. He divides his time between a rented house in Skagen in the summer and a flat in Copenhagen in the winter. His formats are diverse, ranging from small, life-like sketches to monumental paintings, some of which were shown at the official Salon in France.

Laurits Tuxen, Portrait de Peder Severin Krøyer, 1904, huile sur toile, Musée des beaux-arts de Budapest
Laurits Tuxen, Portrait de Peder Severin Krøyer, 1904, huile sur toile, Musée des beaux-arts de Budapest

The table Sardine factory in Concarneau Krøyer's 1879 painting is a medium-sized work (115.5 cm x 155.5 cm). The artist depicts an interior scene of a fish cannery. The scene is a realistic representation, faithful to the artist's academic style, and is carefully detailed. The famous "penn sardin" headdress can easily be seen.[1] of the female workers, characterised by a thin white cap, which most of the time shows the hair in a bun at the back of the neck and is elegantly enhanced by a white ribbon. The other elements of the work dress such as the bib apron and the cape[2] of coloured wool are also detailed on the worker in the foreground of the composition.

Peder Severin Kroyer, Sardinerie à Concarneau, huile sur toile, 115x155 cm, 1879

The artist went so far as to dissociate the costumes worn by the different workers in this workshop, between those wearing the Penn Sardin originating from Douarnenez - but whose geographical area of influence extended at the end of the 19th century from the Crozon peninsula to the port of Concarneau - and those loyal to the Giz Fouen wearing the Cornish headdress, characterised by large winged bands. In addition to the careful textile details of the composition, the master has endeavoured to transcribe the half-light of the workshop while playing on the sun rays that cross the roof in places to illuminate the workers and the tables filled with sardines to be topped.