Moods in the work of the Skagen painters
"There is a particular atmosphere up in Skagen, which I simply cannot resist. The moment the beach is bathed in peace and moonlight, I am down there with my sketchbook. Skagen can appear terribly dull in bright sunlight, when the weather is much too fine, so we can see the ugly houses with their red roofs. But when the sun sets, when the moon rises out of the sea, and the glassy sea is mirrored in the rising moon, and the fishermen are standing on the beach, and the cutters sail off and lie out there with loose sails… in recent years this has been my favourite mood… In recent years everything I have painted in Skagen has involved this mood.”
Peder Severin Krøyer, 1907
In the 1870s, inspired first by the new French Realism and later by Naturalism, many of the younger generation of Danish artists fled from the cities out to the country's more isolated regions, portraying human beings and their close relationship to the sublime landscape.
Although they are often praised for their treatment of light, the Skagen Painters produced a surprisingly large number of evening paintings.
To begin with, the Skagen painters were best known for their naturalistic portrayals of fishermen, nature and life in and around the area.
However, in the course of time, some of the painters and particularly Peder Severin Krøyer moved away from strictly painting cultural-historical depictions of the period. Instead they focused much more on colours and moods, lights and shadows and the beautiful skies around sunset.
This is the last large figure painting from P.S. Krøyer before his death in 1909. Here, he has gathered artists as well as local women, men and children around a Midsummer's Eve's bonfire on the beach.
The painting, started as sketches back in 1892 but was not finished until 14 years later, is a tribute to the artists' colony, but Krøyer himself is not in the picture
Krøyer got the idea for the painting of Anna Ancher and Marie Krøyer on the beach in June 1892 after a dinner party, which he and Marie hosted at their house in Skagen.
The artist couple Anna and Michael Ancher, the writer Otto Benzon and his wife Emma, and the writer Sophus Schandorph and his wife Ida were the evening’s guests. After dinner everyone walked down to the beach to enjoy the tranquil summer's evening.
In his autobiographical notes, Michael Ancher wrote:
"We drank our coffee in the garden and then, on this glorious summer evening, walked down to the beach. Everything was peaceful and hushed. It was when the two young ladies strolled down the beach in close conversation, that Krøyer got the idea for one of his most beautiful paintings.”
In his blue paintings, Krøyer recreates the mood of romances and fairytales, occasionally coloured with a soft and romantic, melancholic touch of bleakness.
The mood of several of Krøyer's blue paintings reflects the twilight, the so-called “blue hour”, when sky and sea appear to blend in an abundance of blue tones and create the feeling of a nocturne.
Carl Locher was generally very keen to portray different kinds of weather and light effects on the shore, and he often portrayed an overcast sky, rain and storm. This one however depicts the bluish light of a September evening.
For many years Locher used a felt tent as his studio. This tent could be moved around on the shore so that he could be sheltered even in bad weather.
In 1889 Anna Ancher wrote a letter to colleague and fellow Skagen painter Viggo Johansen, asking him for advice:
“The smallest one, 'Lene plucking' will, I think, not be discarded, but the larger one, 'Blue Room with Helga' (Evening prayers) I am a bit uncertain about, it is only the colour that I meant something with, the figure isn't terribly good, the motif looks a little unnatural, but Helga had heard a story and wanted to do the same thing as the girl in the story.”
In this painting, Anna Ancher and her husband and fellow artist Michael Ancher have painted each other as equal discussion partners and artists, which is something quite rare in the art of the time.
However if we compare Anna and Michael Ancher’s paintings of the private sphere, they naturally have certain motifs in common: the home, their daughter, close family members etc., but while several of Michael Ancher’s paintings from the private sphere primarily portray Anna Ancher as a middle-class wife undertaking tasks, for instance in her role as mother.
Anna Ancher’s portraits of family life on the other hand is often a lot more intimate and provide the impression of not being staged.
This is one of the only known paintings by Anna Ancher that is not based on an experienced reality. It was inspired by a dream Anna had. A picture that may very well be about faith and lack of faith.
Although Anna Ancher grew up in a religious environment, she herself was not religious, and in her youth she was influenced by the cultural radical and atheistic artists who visited the artists' colony at the end of the 19th century.
Curation and text – Skagens Kunstmuseer | Art Museums of Skagen