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The cortege on canvas – funerals in famous art

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A Funeral – Frants Henningsen (1850-1908)

On a bleak midwinter day, a mother and her two young children follow their father’s casket as it is borne to his burial in a churchyard for the poor, in Copenhagen, Denmark. This painting hangs in the Statens Museum for Kunst (SMK), Denmark’s national gallery. Bereavement and loss were the subject of many of Henningsen’s works.

Funeral Procession – Clementine Hunter (1886-1988)

Clementine Hunter paintings often depict scenes that captured significant religious rituals, inspired by memories of this revered African American folk artist’s early life on a Southern plantation. In this painting by her from 1950, mourners have left the church and are carrying the flower-strewn bier in a funeral procession to the graveside. It is part of a collection held at the SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia.

A Funeral – Anna Ancher (1859-1935)

This Danish painting from 1891 was inspired by the rural funeral of an elderly woman called Stine Bollerhus, whom the artist had met earlier in life and painted in other works. It captures a simple way of life and traditions that were already disappearing from more cosmopolitan parts of Denmark. This painting is among the artworks in Denmark’s national collection at the SMK.

Military Funeral – Isaac Israels (1865-1934)

Painted in 1882, a soldier is laid to rest in a simple military burial, after falling ill at his barracks. His comrades pay their final respects, as they stand around his neatly-dug grave. Hailed as a triumphant debut work when Israels unveiled it as a young artist, it can now be viewed at the Netherlands' Gemeentemuseum in The Hague.

Funeral Scaffold of a Sioux Chief – Karl Bodmer (1809-1893)

In the early 1830s, Swiss artist Karl Bodmer traveled to the U.S. in a cultural voyage of discovery along the yet-unchanged Upper Missouri River. He and his traveling companion visited Blackfeet, Crow, Cree, Mandan, Hidatsa, and Sioux settlements and this engraving of a Sioux chief’s funeral rites later featured in a book about their journey. The original printing plates were later acquired by the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha.

Het Armenkarretje (The Arms Trolley) – Gustaaf Sorel (1905-1981)

Bundled up against the cold, a huddle of mourners follow a horse-drawn funeral cortege as it wends its way through a narrow cobbled street. Interestingly, Belgian artist Gustaaf Sorel’s own death was also captured in artwork by sculptor Irénée Duriez, who created a death mask and bronze cast of his hands, crossed, lying at peace.

Pogrzeb Huculski (Hutsul funeral)– Teodor Axentowicz (1859-1938)

High up in the snow covered Carpathian mountains, a villager’s casket is drawn towards their church funeral by sled. Friends and family light the way with candles, in a funeral procession with a holy cross at its head. A Polish-Armenian, Teodor Axentowicz was one of a number of artists fascinated by the lives and traditions of the people who lived in this remote part of the world during the late 19th century.

I am the Resurrection and the Life – Francis Montague Holl (1845-1888)

Also known as The Village Funeral, Frank Holl’s study of a simple burial in a rural English churchyard depicts the raw grief of the mourners, while a mother with two very young children, looks on in sympathy. The London-born artist, who painted this in 1872, painted several other works depicting the hardship and loss endured by the Victorian era’s poor.

Begravning i Senlis (Burial in Senlis) – Nils Dardel (1888-1943)

Swedish born Dardel died in New York and lived a nomadic life. He painted this scene in 1913, while staying in the medieval village of Senlis, in northern France. On a late day in spring, with the trees in full leaf and shrubs in flower, a full cortege and casket, laden with blooms, proceeds slowly from the church towards a woodland burial ground. The painting is part of Sweden’s Rolf de Mare art collection.

Bondebegravelse (‘Peasant Funeral’) – Erik Werenskiold (1855-1938)

A simple burial mound marks the final resting place of a loved one from a poor family in rural Norway. As the parson commends their soul to the Lord with a prayer, the family looks on in solemn contemplation. Norwegian artist Werenskiold painted several studies of life in poor rural communities and also illustrated books of folk and fairy tales.

  • If you feel inspired by this art, take a look at some more death art, from antiquity to the modern day.
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