My wife called while I was shopping in Netto. Her grandmother passed away this morning. Rikke turned 100 in March. She lived in her own home and passed away in her sleep.
We were there for her birthday celebration. Queen Margrethe II sent her a card on the occasion of her birthday though Rikke being Rikke was annoyed that the Queen hadn’t bothered to sign the card. Her signature was part of the printed greeting. Rikke was growing ever more frail and had been bedridden for the past three years. Yet, her mind was still sharp and she had never had bed sores. She lived in what had been her library/living room. The local community provided in-home nursing care and my wife’s uncle and aunt who lived on the same block as her took care of her house and large gardens.
My introduction to Danish culture was in large measure due to Rikke. Driving to her house in a small town in Midtjylland (Central Jutland) for frokost (lunch) took us through towns and lakes and forest. Rikke was an excellent hostess, well-practiced given her duties as the wife of an executive for one of Danmark’s 19 multinational companies. They were the ones who entertained because the founder of the company preferred it that way.
Until she became bedridden, for a favorite grandchild and her partner, me, there was always the perfect frokost with fish courses of herring and lox followed by many more courses served in the Danish order on her finest china and silver. Lunch always started with a toast of fine schnapps and ended with dessert, coffee, and a brandy.
Yet, first and foremost, Rikke was a water colorist and a painter. She ran an arts school out of the basement of her house in a town that wasn’t exactly a cultural mecca because she thought it was important that everyone – no matter who they were – had a familiarity with the arts. She was connected to the arts community though nearly all her friends and peers have passed on.
Her landscapes and still lifes of flowers are well-known in Denmark. She was a master in a difficult unforgiving medium – watercolor. Her landscapes are alive with the beauty of the quiet places that exist everywhere in Denmark. Perhaps that’s why her work is so well loved here. It turns the simplicity of grasses and trees and water into an expression of meditative centeredness. There are few easily recognizable spectacular Danish landscapes; this verdant land is not Norway. It seduces you in different ways.
Looking at her watercolors I see that Rikke found inspiration from what some might consider common or ordinary. Her ability to convey the uniqueness of the greens, browns, and blues of the Danish landscape is the basis of her artistry. The loss of her voice, one that celebrates contemplation, in a world increasingly driven by spectacle is a loss for all.
I mourn her passing knowing that she lived long and well and gave much to many. With apologies to Dylan Thomas, “Wild woman who caught and sang the sun in flight, bless me now with your fierce tears I pray. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”