Tag Archives: Albert Anker

Because Death is Part of Life…

Albert Anker, Ruedi Anker, 1869

Albert Anker, Ruedi Anker, 1869

Death comes to visit in many different ways.

Sometimes the loss is heartbreaking, a child gone too soon, a young person whose life abruptly ends, a parent lost to a young family.

Sometimes it feels as if we should have been prepared, knowing that illness or age would soon bring an end to life.

Sometimes, especially as we grow older, we catch a glimpse of our own deaths in each loss.

Recently my family lost some of our elders. They are a generation rapidly diminishing, and one which, through their lives and thoughts, helped shape the people we are now. They were ready to let go of life, but we found ourselves not ready to let go of them.

Artists have frequently dwelt on the horrors of death – death in war, death from terrible illness, murder. The true horror for most of us is the sense of loss we feel, a sense which echoes and re-echoes with each going. And yet there are artists and writers who offer comfort by sharing a different vision, by creating beautiful images that lead us to take another look.

One that stays with me is the one above, the painting that Albert Anker created of his young son Ruedi, resting so peacefully in death. There is love in the beauty of it, and in the care with which it was painted.

And these words that Kahlil Gibran wrote in “The Prophet” are beautiful in their own way, an almost intoxicating description of death:

“For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?”

For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.”

In life there is always death. Both are part of the cycles of nature. As each year passes we see death and rebirth; Winter strips the leaves of trees and browns the grasses, sends animals and birds into hiding, freezes water into stillness. Then out of Winter comes Spring; we see the natural world return to life again, see new leaves and blossoms and fresh shoots of grass and young creatures born.

Dark follows light follows dark. Each day ends, and after sunset comes the night. We create pools of light to keep the dark away – yet it is still there and all the light we create cannot banish it completely. Then after the night comes the sunrise, and light stronger than we can make returns.

There are cycles in nature, of light and dark, death and birth. Though individuals go, the whole lives on. And the lives of those we have loved live on in us, in our thoughts and in our hearts.

Sleeping in the Hay

Albert Anker, Boy Sleeping in the Hay

Albert Anker, Boy Sleeping in the Hay

A boy lies in the hay, abandoned to sleep. His snowy white shirt stands out against the green of the not-yet-dry hay strewn around him,  his soil-stained bare feet are pointed toward us, his wide-brimmed straw hat lies abandoned beside him. His overalls are crumpled and stained; his vest lies open in the sun-lit warmth.

The wooden walls behind him frame the hay he lies on, and we see the color of his hair echoed in the detail of those walls. His feet rest on sandy-colored soil. As he sleeps he lies sprawled diagonally across the scene in front of us, so that our eye follows his figure from feet to head, from light to darker.

We look up from the lightness of the soil past his soil-stained feet to the pale circle of his face. Every detail we notice tells us something about him. It is an idyllic and beautifully composed picture.  

In his clothing we see his activeness, in his rest innocence, in his person fragility.

The Swiss artist Albert Anker worked in the late nineteenth century.  His paintings focused on life in the small provincial town he lived in. He showed life there both as he knew it and as he hoped it could be.

The children he painted were busy about their lives. In his work you can see the care with which he observed and recorded them at work, as they learned, and at play.  He knew well what those lives were about.

He also knew how fragile their lives were –  both his siblings died, leaving him his parents’ only surviving child. As a father, he enjoyed – and observed – his own children, and also grieved. Two of his six children died when they were young.

Art reflects the lives and thoughts of the person creating it. Here we see an active young boy resting for a little while, sleeping in the hay – and we also see his innocence and his vulnerability.

And the vulnerability of the artist?