The Funeral of a Viking Frank Dicksee Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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This 1893 oil-on-canvas work is one of those historical paintings for which the artist is renowned to this day. It shows us an emotive scene of a Viking leader being given a funeral of honour by his people.

Laid out in his longboat, the leader is being pushed out to sea by his men, his ship afire. Of all the ways to dispose of a dead body, a public cremation has to be one of the most awe-inspiring, not to mention emotion inspiring ways to do this. This particular Viking must have been a leader, someone who led marauding teams of warriors across the seas, to come ashore and attack communities living close to the ports. In fact, the Viking longboats would go up rivers, well into the inner area of a country, and attack river-valley communities.

They were dreaded warriors indeed. They treated their leaders with great respect, hence this emotional and dramatic despatch. The painting shows horn-capped Viking workers, naked from the waist up, pushing the boat out to see. The corpse upon the boat is already aflame. One wonders if the smoke from the funeral pyre is not making the workers ill with the fumes. On the land, the Viking officials wave farewell, including the torch-bearer, who has obviously just lit the pyre prior to its departure. His free hand is raised in a defiant wave, as if to convey to the departed that they will meet again. We also notice that as the pyre lights up, the dusk is falling.

If it wasn't for the fire on the ship, the painting would be rather dull. It makes one think that the Viking’s true home was his boat and the open seas, rather than his native land. This notable painting is in the collection at the Manchester Art Gallery. Oil-on-canvas seems to be a favourite method of painting through the ages. It certainly stands the test of time. Sir Francis Bernard Dicksee was a noted painter of the Victorian era. A follower of the romantic movement, he specialised in portraits of women in the public eye, which earned him renown. But in the long term, his historical paintings and legendary scenes have guaranteed him a place in the annals of art. He appears to have had a deep love of history and to have enjoyed bringing scenes from the past before the viewers of his time.