The motif of the drunkard, isolated and pushed back towards the outskirts of the village, is a brutal representation of the rejection of the deviant by the crowd. The harshness is intensified in content by the fact that the scene takes place as part of the children’s social play. Their shamelessly distorted faces testify to nature red in tooth and claw as the sad basis of a society that is itself marginalized and has no leeway for human sympathy. With its monumental format the picture stands as a manifesto that confirms Ring’s pessimistic view of humanity.
Ring’s realism is not confined to the accurate registration of events, and he does not allow us to stand there as innocent and passive witnesses to this scene. On the contrary, the picture creates a basis for identification between the observer and the drunk, placed as he is – almost imploringly – at the centre of the vanishing-point of the picture. The lines of the picture and the road, however, do not guide the gaze into this point, but turn it to the left and in this surprising and abrupt shift allow us to feel the slight stagger in the drunken gaze.
L.A. Ring was one of the most prominent representatives of Realism in Danish art. He was the son of an artisan, and himself trained as a house painter until he was admitted to the Royal Danish Academy of Art. Throughout his life he stuck to his origins, both personally and in his work. He took his name from the little south Zealand village where he was born, and the rural population and its surroundings became his constantly recurring subject.
One characteristic of Ring’s paintings is a raw, direct realism. He looked at the world with a penetrating gaze that was painfully sharp and merciless, as in the first picture here, which captures the memory of a childhood experience in the village of Ring.