All forms of life are bound to die at some point. We are all aware of this fact, but we fear death when it arrives. Finnish artist Albert Edelfelt created a painting at the age of 25 on the topic of death. Moreover, he entered the painting in the Paris Salon. Why had the young artist chosen death as a topic? How was the painting received?
Edelfelt was born and raised in the beautiful fishing village of Porvoo, southern part of Finland. He left the village in his 20s to study art in Paris, but he would return to his hometown on the holidays to draw paintings of the landscape and the people. This painting is also a painting of Haikko, near Porvoo.
The painting is like a scene from a movie, where six people are on a boat with a young child’s coffin. They appear to be family and portray different expressions of sadness. The facial expression of the old woman in mourning on the left is crushed, while the woman beside her gazes out to the sea. The expression of the men rowing the boat looks very grave. The girl in the middle appears to be suffering the most. She holds the flower tightly in her hand, as if she feels she is not ready to let her family go. The artist seems to have chosen the topic of death based on his experience. Having lost his father at an early age, he was aware of the agony of loss and remained in close relationship with his mother throughout his life. When he was away from home, he sent hundreds of letters to his mother.
The painting was well-received in the Paris Salon in 1880. He received third prize, the first time for a Finnish artist. French critics praised the painting, saying that the artist had excellently captured the noble moment of family humbly accepting death as the part of the circle of life. Through the painting, the artist encourages us to think about death and cherish our loved ones every day.