Frederik Vermehren had an ability to observe his subjects with a special veraciousness, which can be clearly seen in his portraits of people from different backgrounds. In this head and shoulders portrait of a fisherman’s wife, the artist has sought to bring out the older woman’s personality by portraying her in a true-to-life fashion. The hard and at times miserable life as a fisherman’s wife is imprinted in her windswept cheeks and worn-out clothes. Her gaze is marked by a deep sadness, amplified further by the worry lines on her forehead. By portraying her in such a way, Vermehren sought to show how a person’s identity is shaped by their environment.
About the artist:
Vermehren exhibited a painting of a shoemaker at Charlottenborg Exhibition Hall in the spring of 1847. The honesty of his unadorned depiction of normal everyday life was central to Vermehren’s output. The national romantic conception of art that reigned in this era led many artists of the day to heed N.L. Høyen’s desire that they portray the life of the common people. The fishwives, sowers and other figures from peasant life depicted by Vermehren are beautiful examples of this. As a teacher at the Academy of Fine Arts, Vermehren was not blind to the aspiration among artists of this era to achieve greater realism; nor was he oblivious to the talent of the artist P. S. Krøyer. As a national romantic painter of everyday life, Vermehren himself remained, nevertheless, a firm believer in depicting situations. The people and environments he depicts are frozen in a timeless state, something which has frequently led to his paintings being used to illustrate for example reprints of Steen Steensen Blicher’s short stories. However Vermehren was never an outright realist in keeping with the style of the French Realist movement.