Finnish painter Albert Edelfelt’s brilliant painting ‘Conveying a Child’s Coffin’
It may not be true but I feel all great painters could at the very least make great cinematographers, if not great film directors. This morning, on my regular pilgrimage to the Google Art Project, I chanced upon this breathtaking piece of work titled ‘Conveying a Child’s Coffin’ by Finnish painter Albert Edelfelt.
The 120 (height) x 204 (width) cm oil on canvas was created in 1879. The accompanying description says this about the work: “Towards the end of the 1870s, Albert Edelfelt became an advocate of plein-air realism. He decided that his next work for the Paris Salon had to be painted completely from nature. He created this painting at Haikko near Porvoo. Conveying a Child’s Coffin can be considered the first exhibited Finnish painting to have been painted exclusively outdoors. At the 1880 Salon, the painting was awarded a 3rd class medal, the first time a Finnish artist received such an honour. French critics particularly lauded the fact that the painting did not come over as sentimental; instead it displays a serenity and nobility in accepting the inevitability of the cycle of life. While it is realistic in style, it does not seek to show the coarseness of the common people or to avoid any sense of beauty.”
My first reaction to the painting was its superb framing and aspect ratio. The aspect ratio of 204 cm in width and 120 cm height is like a movie frame to me. Then I was struck by the various shades of blue both in nature and the people’s clothes. As one begins to zoom in, thanks to the Google Art Project’s zoom in tool, one begins to see in great detail what the French critics so rightly called. Look at the expressions on the five faces. They are indeed serene, thoughtful and matter of fact. Each of the five whose faces that can be seen in varying degrees have very individual and very private expressions. I have sliced out three pieces to illustrate what I mean.
In the frame above the man and the two women all seemed to have been caught by Edelfelt at a time when they appeared to be processing the grief of a lost child in their own very individualistic manner. The girl below looks deeply saddened and lost. Even the way she is clutching the flowers has a certain sad resignation about it.
Then there is the oarsman who looks matter of fact and solemn at once.
And finally, look at the details in the boat. The color of the man’s hands, the oar and the boat have been brilliantly executed.
At the risk of overstating my admiration for the painting, I must also say that I even love painter’s signature and its font.