Northbound exhibition opening in Monaco this Saturday the 19th!

The Museum Kunst der Westküste is presenting Northbound: Connected by the Sea exhibition at the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco from March 19 to June 19, 2022. It brings together 24 paintings and photographs including Agnes II (now in the MKDW museum collection), historical and contemporary works which illustrate the role of the North Sea and the importance of preserving its coastal and marine areas.

The Northbound exhibition, scheduled as part of the Monaco Ocean Week, will be complemented by a scientific symposium entitled ‘The North Sea, a Sea of Solutions’, on 11 May 2022. It will address, using a comparative approach, the challenges to be met as well as exemplary experiments carried out for the protection of the environment for the North Sea and the Mediterranean. This meeting is open to the public and led by Peter Herzig, former director of the GEOMAR Institute.

‘Northbound, Connected by the Sea’ at the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, Avenue Saint-Martin, MC-98000 Monaco. March 19–June 19, 2022 Hours: Monday–Sunday 10am–7pm musee@oceano.org

More information from the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco site below the image.

Aurits Tuxen, Fresh day in June in Skagen, 1908. Copyright: Museum Kunst der Westküste

All the works presented have a common denominator: the sea. For centuries artists have challenged themselves to ‘capture’ this subject which stands never still. In constant motion, the sea changes continually in its overall appearance, its colours, its temperament. At times the sea captivates by its calm, smooth, reflective surface. At times it is immersed in green, blue or sometimes grey, interspersed with white crests formed by the waves.

By creating a dialogue between historical and contemporary artworks, the Northbound exhibition is inviting its visitors to explore the role played by the North Sea throughout history. The exhibition also illuminates the role the North Sea played and continues to play in the cultural links between the island of Föhr, Northern Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway. These regions are also linked by the threat posed by climate change, pollution and overfishing. By letting visitors appreciate the beauties and characteristics of the North Sea region, the aim is to draw their attention to the importance of protecting coasts and encourage as many people as possible to have a responsible attitude towards nature.

On the island of Föhr, in northern Germany, in the Netherlands, in Denmark, and in Norway, the artists’ gaze is repeatedly directed towards the sea. The ideas that people have about the oceans are universal and multifaceted. It is true that after the invention of the echo sounder and other technical achievements in the 20th and 21st centuries, the size of the world’s oceans can be determined more precisely, with a volume of around 1,338 billion cubic meters. However, these calculations tend to confirm the lore of this habitat’s infinite size and depth beyond any imagination. There is probably hardly a person who is not emotionally addressed and forms ideas about the sea at the sight of it. For centuries, artists, in particular, have felt challenged to “capture” what they have experienced and observed and to deal with a motif that knows no standstill, is in constant never the same motion, and exhibits a tremendous variance of appearance in colour and temperament. Sometimes the sea captivates with calm, smooth, reflective surfaces, sometimes it “boils” and sprays, sometimes it is immersed in green or blue, sometimes in grey. White crests of waves form further accents.

The seaward view is often emphasized by pictorial figures in the artworks. For example, in the 1906 painting Evening Beach Scene by Otto H. Engel (1866–1949), spa guests and beach vacationers look out to sea. A comparable summer atmosphere is also conveyed in the 1916 work Figures on a Coastal Rock by Arne Kavli (1878–1970), in which two women with umbrellas and a man with a straw hat try to protect themselves from the glaring sunlight while enjoying the view of a stretch of coastline. The timelessness of this motif is illustrated by the 1824 painting Fjord Landscape Near Hopsfjord/East Finnmark by Friedrich Thöming (1802–1873), painted some 90 years earlier, in which a man, standing alone on a rocky outcrop, gazes lost in thought at the broad panorama of an imposing fjord. That such a view serves not only for contemplative edification but also has a practical purpose is expressed by the curious position occupied by a salmon fisherman in a work executed by Hans Fredrik Gude (1825–1903), Salmon Fisherman on a Norwegian Fjord from 1848. Life revolved around fishing. 

The artists themselves—with an eye on their buyers—rather captured the beautiful moments, as exemplified in Peder Severin Krøyer’s painting Fishermen on the Beach at Skagen. Mild Summer Evening from 1883, in which the fishermen enjoy a relaxed evening on the beach with a view of their “workplace.” The hardships of their work remain left out. In the 1896 work from Philip Sadée, Fishing Fleet Returning to Katwijk, it is women and children who look out to the sea to watch for the returning men. Laurits Tuxen (1853–1927), in his work Fresh Day in June on Skagen from 1908, places the viewer in a position as if he were standing directly on the edge of the beach and enjoying the view of the sea. These examples alone demonstrate the great variance of the theme. 

Inspired by this transnational fascination with the view of the sea, visitors of the Northbound exhibition can use historical and contemporary artworks to explore the role the North Sea has played and continues to play in the cultural links between the island of Föhr, northern Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway.

The island of Föhr

The green North Sea island of Föhr is located in the middle of the UNESCO World Heritage Wadden Sea, where a stunning natural spectacle occurs twice a day as the water recedes for kilometres. As a natural area, the island is characterized by extensive white sand beaches, vast green marshland, and a mild maritime climate. These advantages have earned Föhr the surprising nickname “Frisian Caribbean,” which alludes to another special feature of the island: its Frisian culture. Even today, you can see numerous ornate thatched Frisian houses on the island. In addition, one of the smallest minority languages in Europe, Frisian/Fering, has been preserved on Föhr and is still actively spoken by around 2000 islanders. Also, young girls and women wear traditional Föhr costumes on special occasions. In the Northbound exhibition the light painting photograph Elisabeth/Doubts from 2014 by Mila Teshaieva (b. 1974) makes this aspect of Frisian culture very vivid: showing a beautiful young woman in traditional Föhr costume this contemporary artwork emphasizes the bond between tradition and modernity. Many Frisian customs are closely linked to life by and from the sea. On Föhr, for example, only a traditional costume fashion for women has developed. The men went to sea, served the coastal shipping along the northern German, Danish, Dutch, and Norwegian coastal areas, or sailed across the oceans. Today there are three Frisian regions (West, East, and North Frisia), which extend over the coastal areas of the Netherlands and Northern Germany and which are connected with each other both by a transnational Frisian sense of belonging and by the North Sea.

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