Home > 1990, 20th Century, Delerm Philippe, French Literature, Novel, Painting > Sundborn by Philippe Delerm – about Scandinavian impressionists

Sundborn by Philippe Delerm – about Scandinavian impressionists

Sundborn or the days of lightness by Philippe Delerm (1996) Original French title: Sundborn ou les jours de lumière. Not available in English.

Another book from the Musée d’Orsay bookstore, Sundborn ou les jours de lumière by Philippe Delerm is about the Scandinavian group of artists who gathered in Grez-sur-Loing in 1884. We have Carl Larsson and his wife Karin, Peder Severin (“Soren”) Krøyer, Christian Krohg, Karl Nordström and August Strindberg and his wife Siri.

Grez-sur-Loing seemed to be destined to be linked to artists: this is where Laure de Berny, Balzac’s muse and inspiration for Lily in the Valley is buried.

Delerm imagines that a French-Danish young man whose grand-parents live at Grez-sur-Loing, meets the artists and befriends them. When the group dissolves, he follows the Carlssons to Skagen, Denmark and later visits them in Sundborn, Sweden. His name is Ulrik Tercier, an association of first and last names that shows his mother’s Danish side and his father’s French side. Ulrik stays at Grez-sur-Loing every summer, coming from Paris where his father is a doctor. I know, it sounds a lot like Proust’s childhood and adolescent summers in Combray, especially since Ulrik and Marcel are around the same age.

Ulrik remains close to the Larssons and this prop offers Delerm the opportunity to explore several decades of these painters’ lives.

The moments at Grez-sur-Loing are the premises of the Skagen Painters group who lived and worked in Skagen in community, like French impressionists. Delerm describes a vivid group of artists, horsing around and working together, hosted at the Hôtel Chevillon. (The servant of this inn is named Léonie, a reference to Proust’s Aunt Léonie in Combray?)

Sundborn is a lovely book that pictures a group of artists who enjoy life, look for the best light in their painting and are on a quest as artists. They are Norwegian, Danish, Swedish and they share playful days in Skagen, where Krøyer settles and then brings his wife, the painter Marie Triepke. In Skagen, the group has the addition of Michael Ancher and his wife Anna, Viggo and Martha Johansen and Oscar Björk.

Krøyer’s painting Hip, Hip, Hurrah is a testimony of their group’s everyday life.

Later, the Larssons go back to Sweden, buy a country property in Sundborn and change it into a homey house open to friends and visitors. The Carlssons had a lot of children and Delerm hints that their family life changed them and influenced their art. They found their inner light in their family life. Carl turned to watercolor and Karin to kraft. They became iconic in Sweden.

Carl Larsson: Köket.NMB 270

Delerm develops Ulrik’s story as a bystander, the lover of a side painter, Julia. It is not a book about painting technique but more about a group of painters who aimed at harmony between their art and their happiness, who changed official painting in their respective country and brought the impressionist movement into Scandinavian art. It’s a book by an art lover who makes the reader want to rush to a museum and see all these paintings by themselves.

Incidentally, there’s currently an exhibition about Soren Krøyer at the Musée Marmottan-Monet in Paris. I went to the exhibition at the end of June. I bought Delerm’s book years ago, picked it from the shelf in a decrease-the-TBR move and ended up reading about the very painter whose painting I discovered a month ago. Serendipity. Krøyer’s painting is stunning. The rare sunny days in Skagen have a distinctive lightness and the colony of painters tried to capture moments of life at Skagen, their walks on the beach, their life together but also the lives of the Skagen fishermen. I was mesmerized by the light coming off Krøyer’s paintings. Little girls pop out of the frame and come alive in front of you.

The beach is bright and inviting. You think Marie will turn and start talking to you. I could have stared at the paintings for hours.

P.S. Krøyer Summer evening on Skagen’s Beach. Anna_Ancher and Marie Krøyer walking together

This image doesn’t do justice to Krøyer’s amazing gift at transcribing light. Now, let’s watch paintings from this attaching group of Scandinavian artists.

Karl Nordström Field of Oats at Grez
Michael Ancher – A stroll on the beach
Atelje idyll Konstnärens hustru med dottern Suzanne
Carl Larsson 1885
Anna Ancher – Sunlight in the blue room
Viggo Johansen – Dividing the catch
Marie Kroyer – selfportrait
Christian Krohg – Tired

PS: Philippe Delerm also wrote Autumn, about the pre-Raphaelites.

  1. August 5, 2021 at 12:11 pm

    That sounds like a really interesting read; these aren’t artists that I’m familiar with (my knowledge is very limited, of course) but I love the paintings you’ve featured here, the two little girls and the group dining, especially. The painting of the fishermen–Dividing the Catch would seem to also incorporate their theme of finding happiness in their work.


    • August 6, 2021 at 7:12 am

      I’m not familiar with these painters either but Philippe Delerm whets the reader’s appetite. Now I want to know more about them and see their paintings with my own eyes.
      I have only seen the Kroyer at the exhibition I mentioned and I can tell you that the pictures I put in my post don’t do any justice to the actual paintings. I can’t explain the light that comes off them.

      Philippe Delerm also wrote Autumn, a book about the Pre-Raphaelites.


      • August 6, 2021 at 10:41 am

        They made me curious about the artists too; am definitely going to look the artists up

        Liked by 1 person

  2. August 5, 2021 at 2:14 pm

    What lovely paintings! I had only ever heard of this group tangentially (other than the Larssons) and this book sounds like a perfect introduction to them.


  3. August 5, 2021 at 6:16 pm

    Fascinating! And those images are stunning!


    • August 6, 2021 at 7:15 am

      Thanks. I wish I could see them with my own eyes. The Kroyer exhibition was stunning.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. August 5, 2021 at 8:18 pm

    Stunning Emma! Thank you for such a gorgeous post.


    • August 6, 2021 at 7:16 am

      I had a good time reading the book and writing this post. I’m glad it finds its readers.
      The paintings and the book just make me want to know more about them.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. August 6, 2021 at 4:54 am

    I know this author: He wrote La première gorgée de bière et autres plaisirs minuscules which I received as a Humbook. (Remember when we used to do that!)
    I love the sound of this book, I always like books about art and artists.


    • August 6, 2021 at 7:18 am

      Yes, you’re right, it’s the same writer. He also wrote Autumn, about the Pre-raphaelites.
      Sundborn is a nice introduction to these painters and I’m curious about them now.

      PS: We can rekindle the humbug event, if you want! 🙂


  6. August 6, 2021 at 12:04 pm

    Lovely paintings. More photo real than Australians of the same period, some of which are quite similar, eg. Summer evening on Skagen’s Beach. Is there any story to the novel, a young boy’s coming of age amongst these artists maybe.


    • August 8, 2021 at 7:34 am

      Lovely paintings, indeed.
      There’s Ulrisk’s story as a connecting thread. He’s a faithful friend on the sidelines and falls for Julia, another fictional character, a painter who gravitates around the group too.

      Who are the Australian impressionists?


  7. August 7, 2021 at 6:58 pm

    Aren’t these artists wonderful? The way they can catch the luminosity of light is mesmerizing.


    • August 8, 2021 at 7:36 am

      They are wonderful and yes, they have their way to catch light on paintings. They say that the light in Skagen in unique, like it is in the South of France.


  8. buriedinprint
    August 9, 2021 at 6:29 pm

    Wow, these are magnificent. Thanks for sharing all the images and your enthusiasm about the story.

    I’ve recently discovered a Little Free Library a neighbourhood away that has a regular supply of French paperbacks. Maybe I will start to recognize a new set of names from the untranslated set. (In addition to what I learn from your posts.)


    • August 10, 2021 at 4:38 pm

      Great painters, a total discovery for me, except for the exhibition in Paris.
      I hope you’ll be able to get French paperbacks. I’m not a great amateur of French lit but if I can help you, don’t hesitate to ask questions.


      • buriedinprint
        August 10, 2021 at 5:13 pm

        Thank you, I likely will I still have your rec on my library list but have, since, tried an Agatha Christie (which did not work as well as I thought it would, maybe just slightly archaic structures? but it was borrowed from a Free Library so I simply returned it after 20 slightly torturous pages) and am now reading the new Kim Thuy, who writes incredibly simple sentences, but her nouns still challenge me at times…then I will try your rec and hope for the best.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. September 4, 2021 at 9:55 am

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