Niels Lergaard. ‘Hus ved Havet’. Oil on canvas, 1938. Kunsten Museum of Modern Art, Aalborg, Denmark.
As a child and then young man living in California’s more arid interior, I often thought about the sea. Very occasional visits over the years had given me some first-hand and somewhat practical material to work with, of course. But I was charmed by the maritime smells of seaweed and wet sand, of creosote drenched wooden dock piles and planking. The cries of seabirds seemed as eternal and repetitive as the crashings of waves carried to our shores from China and Siberia and Japan. I liked the way the loud rush of winds through shore grass drowned out everything else–including my thoughts. And it seemed like the coast would be a very healthy place to live: the everlasting breezes and gales would purify the air; the moderate temperatures would make year-round outdoor life possible; the brisk oxygen-packed atmosphere would conduce to energetic living and a vigorous appetite.
Now that I have lived along the Northern California coast for over a dozen years, I have significantly modified my views, however. When we rented a large house atop a bluff overlooking violent surf a few years ago, I found myself mightily annoyed by the constant din of waves which intruded upon every waking moment, by the inevitable ferocious drubbing and buffeting to which we were physically subject anytime we went outdoors. Damp sea air can really get to your corporeal organism after about age fifty and generally wreaks havoc on houses and gardens alike.
But I have never ceased to be fascinated by the abrupt juxtaposition of sea and land at the coast. Perhaps that’s what always most drew me in the first place. There is something furiously dynamic about it which both makes you ceaselessly aware that you are still among the living, and yet a tiny and in some respects quite powerless part of the whole. I think that dual realization is good for me and that I will continue to seek it rather oftener than not.
Niels Lergaard (1893-1982), whose painting appears above, was invited to come to the Danish island of Bornholm by his fellow painter Oluf Høst in 1928 and spent much of the rest of his life painting aspects of it. But he was never considered really a member of the ‘Bornholm School’ of painters. He was one of the ‘mørkemalere’ or ‘dark painters’, who tended to use darker palettes and more somber tones. Though even Lergaard himself departed from this practice for the most part after the 1940’s. In his ‘House by the Sea’ above, I am struck by the blunt and nearly pure planes of color, by the warm glowing light which shines even through the rather dour mood of the whole, by the almost architectural construction of the picture. and by the ominous immense sea bearing down upon the viewer from the horizon. I would have liked this painting as a young man, but I’m glad I have not discovered it until now.