In 1904 when Willumsen had travelled to the Atlantic coast to work on his studies of bathing children, he also did studies for a quite different kind of beach picture. He had come to paint the sea, and as he found it difficult to calculate the proportions, he asked Edith to model for him.
Early in the morning Edith ran along the waterside, and he photographed the coast both with and without her. He started on a painting, in which nature becomes a brutal force that crushes mankind. The woman and her child flee from the raging sea and the explosive light of the sun. The wrecked ship has evoked the woman’s grief and despair to such an extent that she cannot even take heed of her child.
Willumsen executed his studies for the picture at Le Pouldu in Brittany and completed it in Paris.
Roughly 10 years later when Willumsen was staying in the South of France, he painted another big picture containing a variation of the same theme. In 1916 he wrote to a woman friend that during the winter he had produced a new version of the woman on the beach. But as the curator of The National Gallery in Oslo might be angry when he heard about it, it was probably a good idea not to say anything about it for the time being. It was, however, not unusual for Willumsen to return to a motif and treat it in a new way. In 1891 and 1913 he produced two versions of a quarry, in both of which the people depicted were presented as slaves of their work.
Willumsen has now omitted the wreck, and the sea has become wilder and more sinister. He feels that he has come closer to his original idea. The woman collapses in despair, threatened by the sea and the sun. We see even more clearly how nature can crush a human being.
In the first years of the century Willumsen painted a series of large-format pictures of man and nature, each time with a widely different balance of the two elements.
As early as in 1901 he wrote to Edith Willumsen that he was longing to depict people. No matter how magnificent a landscape, it is only a background for human existence. Landsacpes have become richer since they were populated with people and animals. He ended by noting that a man, for example, is strengthened by having a big beautiful mountain behind him, while a gentle and round representation of a woman is strengthened by having an idyllic landscape in the background. Later he developed this theme, giving nature different faces in order to emphasise the condition of man.