“Oh the sea—the lovely, lovely sea!”
For Bloch, the seaside was the most alluring of Denmark’s natural beauties. He relished his time spent on the coast and longed for its rejuvenation when away. As a young artist living in Rome, but jealously longing for home, Bloch wrote to a friend in Denmark, “Oh, the sea—the lovely, lovely sea! I love nothing on the earth more than the sea.”
The sea seemed to embody a sense of freedom, strength, and possibility. While struggling as a young artist, Bloch wrote in another letter, “…God helps me—that’s what I think, and then I’m calm…and the world stands open for me. I’m looking out into the air, and the clouds are beckoning to me saying, ‘Sail freely about, old boy! In the world there is space…'”
He began painting landscape scenes early in his career and returned to the subject with greater frequency in the 1880s when the Blochs bought a summer home in Ellekilde, a seaside village north of Copenhagen.
Life at their rural home was a leisurely change from the pressures of city life, and Bloch’s landscape scenes exude calm and contentment. After the death of his beloved wife in 1886, Bloch’s increased time in the countryside seemed to alleviate his loneliness and offered respite from his own eventual health struggles. A friend wrote, “it is, as if the fresh breeze from the [sea] relieves his sorrow, at the same time that the unwearied activity helps him to bear it.”
At a time when national pride and identity were at the forefront of Danish cultural discourse, the public relished Bloch’s ability to evoke the distinctive coastline and forests of their native country with unparalleled eloquence. As one writer noted, “He has seen that the beauty which many pursue far away is waiting outside of everyone’s door.”
See Bloch’s masterful etchings and drawings of his beloved Danish seaside now at the BYU Museum of Art. Lasting Impressions: Etchings and Drawings by Carl Bloch will be on display through January 5, 2019.