The artist’s wife in brief
- Around nine months after his wedding to the young Sigrid Kähler, Ring painted his wife in the garden door with a view of their flowering garden in Karrebæksminde
- With her protruding belly, Sigrid emanates fertility and introduces the idea of an early pregnancy. This idea is supported by the lush garden and the myrtle tree in the middle of the garden, symbols of hope and love
- However, with its gnarled trunk and branches it also reminds us that life is fragile
Pregnant or not?
There has been a lot of discussions of whether or not Sigrid is pregnant in this painting. It is further complicated by the prosaic fact that it wasn’t until two years later that she gave birth to the couple’s first child, Ghita. This doesn’t explain why Ring has chosen to paint Sigrid as if she were pregnant. As we all know, the reality of a painting is always different from the reality outside the frame. In Ring’s perception of his wife and their current happiness, he has chosen to depict her in a position where you can’t help noticing the protruding, rounded belly and thus conclude that she must be pregnant.
A paradisiacal garden?
Another point the researchers argue about is the view of the lush, spring-clad garden:
How far can you go when interpreting a painting without completely losing touch with it?
The discussion springs from Ring’s special ability to combine the very realistic with stylising and compression of the same reality and the view seemingly presented to us in the painting. The realism of the painting allows the viewer into the section of the world depicted here, the lush garden. Apparently a world of growth and budding life.
But due to the artistic choices, the stylising and compression of the painting, the spontaneous impression and interpretation shift from the colouristic, delicate and pulsating promise of spring to a more open interpretation. This is experienced by some as an overdose of expectation and growth symbols, while others accept the garden in its flowery paradisiacal condition.
The bench that disappeared
When the painting was restored in 2005, it was X-rayed. And it came as quite a surprise when a garden bench appeared in the middle of the picture, just to the right of the gnarled tree. Another important change was the myrtle tree in the foreground, which was much smaller originally and only reached half way up the banister.
X-ray, section of L.A. Ring, The Artist’s Wife, 1897, which shows that Ring had originally painted a bench in the garden, which he later chose to hide behind the gnarled branches of the tree.
Life meets death
The changes in the work between the first version and the present, means that the function of the myrtle tree as a love symbol has been emphasised and that the attention is focused on the distorted branches in the middle. This supports the assumption that with this painting Ring wished to depict his earthly paradise, but at the same time wished to add a note of discomfort, a subtle 'memento mori,' as if wanting to curb and relativise his great sense of happiness. Deliberately and calculated, he lets Sigrid’s rounded tummy be confronted by the gnarled trunk and branches of the tree. A reminder of the fragility and insecurity that encompasses the budding life, which is also a part of the representation of both woman and nature.
Although Ring to an extent revokes the statement about his newfound paradise, above all, this painting is an artistic and personal move from death to life. He still suffered melancholy periods, but they became less frequent. What also happened was that life with Sigrid and the three children that quickly followed, brought new motifs with a lighter tone and full of lust for life.
Excerpt from the SMK publication: L.A. Ring: On the Edge of the World, SMK 2006
Other interpretations of The Artist’s Wife
“Ring’s painting of his pregnant wife is not a painting that opens up towards nature, but a vision that carries death in its heart.”
Henrik Wivel, 1994
“Sigrid Ring stands there, a bearer of life like the tree in the painting, because the flowering tree crown which arches over her is also carried by her as a trunk.”
Mogens Nykjær, 1983
“It was with the help of the woman and of love that the man, i.e. the painter himself, could enter into paradise. This perception of woman as the redeemer of love goes back to the perception of women in Romanticism...”
Kaspar Monrad, 1996