Laurits Andersen Ring's iconic Danish landscapes have become tokens of delightful straightforwardness. Together with his refined figure studies, they are at once symbolist and realist, vernacular and universal, and justly recognised as a hallmark of late nineteenth century painting in Northern Europe.
Born in Ring in rural Sjaelland into a family of smallholders, Ring's predilection for the pastoral was all but strengthened by his move to Copenhagen as a young man to pursue his artistic career. After an apprenticeship as a house painter and a brief spell at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, he returned to his parents' house where he practiced the landscape and genre scenes that came to dominate his career. In his mature life, he would live in Copenhagen intermittently, finding his preferred subject matter in the vicinity of his country home. His depictions of thatched farmhouses in winter fog, old peasant folks, flooded meadows and fjords are quiet and luminous insistences on the simple life, at a remove from the expanding and increasingly busy metropolis. At once timeless and historic, they capture traditional Denmark at the threshold of modern life. Telephone poles and rail tracks wire through his white-chalked villages and cornfields as early reminders of the ongoing and irreversible process of industrialisation.
Art historically, Ring occupies the uneasy and intriguing middle ground between Realism and Symbolism, the two dominant and often conflicting stylistic preferences of the late 19th century. While paying scrupulous attention to detail and frequently choosing socially conscious topics, Ring was inspired by painter friends Vilhelm Hammershøi and Ludvig Find to adopt an allegorical and often highly stylistic treatment of his pictures. His often unusual compositions highlight his enthusiasm for the evocative, almost mystical, while mundane subject matter such as winding roads and streams become stand-ins for the path of life itself.
In Sunshine. Spring Day near Kallerup, Ring captures the essence of the peaceful, Danish countryside. A gently curving road leads into the small village of Kallerup in southern Sjaelland, a few of the rooftops disappearing behind small hills in the otherwise flat landscape. The agricultural land is grassy or barren, still waiting for the definitive end of frosty nights to be sowed. The soft glow emitted from the white, puffy clouds and the bright blue sky provide a clear evocation of early Spring, and the welcoming road seems like a metaphor for warmer times ahead.
It is not so much the village as the road itself, which is the focus of the painting, its clayish texture and the dandelions in the verge acquiring a real physical presence. The painting has a very wide format which accentuates the monumental feel. The road as a central motif is a characteristic of Ring, and nine out of ten of his landscapes prominently feature a road or pathway. 'His landscapes are so subjectively appropriated that they appear as images of his state of mind. They are statements about his own spiritual 'landscape' in which streets, paths, highways, railroads, waterways such as rivers, canals, brooks, ditches, etc. are more than just realistic details; they also give observers symbolic avenues of approach to the convoluted and complex basic patterns of the artist's thought, emotional life, and overall mental world'. (F.T. Frederiksen, 'Ring's Roads', exh. cat. L.A. Ring: On the Edge of the World, Copenhagen, p. 146).
The understated beauty of the scenary is captivating, but there is a deeper, underlying message in this painting. Painted at the dawn of the 20th century, the presence of the telephone poles indicate the gradual transition from one era to another that was underway in these years: the effects of industrialisation were beginning to make themselves apparent in all corners of Denmark, transforming deep-rooted agricultural traditions. In one of his most striking paintings, Ring documents the meeting of old and new.