Along the sweep of the beach she strolls, wearing a golden sash at her waist and a white dress that trails behind her, gathering seashells in its hem. To her side the sun burnishes the waves and the sand dunes lunge deep into the distance. Abruptly, my vision stops. Sliced by a gilt-edged picture frame.
I am at an art museum in Jutland to see the work of the late 19th century Skagen School of artists. Skagen, a gracious coastal resort, lies on a peninsula at the northernmost tip of Denmark, where the country tilts a little to the right with the grace of an arum lily. The fragmentation of sunbeams on the surrounding waters – leaping, bouncing, dancing – radiates an extraordinary luminosity, transforming this flat sliver of land into a multi-faceted prism. “Our privilege we know, the bright half-year,” wrote Danish poet Holger Drachmann. The aim of the artists’ colony at Skagen was to seize this boon by capturing the light on canvas.
P S Krøyer, who in 1899 painted the lady with the sash, was obsessed with the ‘blue hour’, that evening time along the horizon when the sea and the sky meld together. To me his talent rests not merely in his palette of blues but in his recreation of the ethereal nature of that moment, in the falling pleat of a chiffon bodice or the wistfulness of a pensive gaze.
After visiting Skagen Art Museum, I decide to go for a vigorous walk where a half-buried church or a lighthouse peeps out from among the dunes, and chance upon a smock-wearing painter dabbing with a brush. And I see for myself how the light transforms the landscape. The back of an easel glimpsed among the dunes is one minute the tint of a quiet heaven and then the shade of harried clouds. Catching even a little of that lustre is a notable achievement but all falls short of being bathed in its dazzling elusiveness. It is as if luminescence is available in a tin of paint which I am now pouring over myself with liberating abandon. No tester pots, this is a deluge. I had come here to see art but am now overcome by the invisible.
Skagen leads to Grenen beach, the northern finale of Denmark where the land tapers neatly before petering out into a sandbank a few metres wide. The shyness of this ending belies its deadly power. The currents that rage below the surface are a maelstrom of danger as the North and Baltic Seas clash, swirl, chop and charge, vying for centre stage. I pull off my sandals and paddle cautiously, feeling the salt sting into a scar on my calf. The wind murmurs a balmy whisper down my back, nudging me to wade out further. Standing on the edge of the sandbank, I stare out at the low sky and deep water, as the real artists of Jutland, the sea and the light, resonate back and forth, to create a boundless masterpiece.
Take heart, Hard Luxe Living