The low, dark winter skies and densely filled picture plane deepens the sense of intense concentration, of heroic grandeur.
The painting's composition
The waves on the bluish-black ocean seem to force their way up into the snow-covered dunes which echo the tumbling waves by lifting up the lifeboat, prefiguring the launch of the boat and how it will break through the heavy surf. Two intersecting diagonals lead the fishermen through the dunes and out towards the vessels in distress. This movement eventually takes the spectator’s gaze back to the starting point: the shouting fisherman, cropped as in a photographic snapshot, making an appeal to someone outside the picture.
A tale of the heroic fishermen
With this painting Michael Ancher continued his tale of the heroic fishermen of Skagen. An epic on a grand scale, the narrative opened with the question Will He Weather the Point, went on to a happy preliminary end, as it were, with A Crew is Rescued and was finally concluded in The Drowned Fisherman.
A contemporary history painting
Previously, history painting was a vehicle for the depiction of great and good deeds done by mythological heroes and men who made history. Common people only made an appearance as rank and file soldiers or in anonymous crowds. The works of Michael Ancher, however, represent the culmination of counteracting endeavours to place ordinary men as the main characters of contemporary history painting.