The Skagen painters
For 50 years, from the mid-1870s, a colony of artists settled in Skagen, a fishing village situated on the northernmost tip of Denmark. These artists were mostly painters, but the colony expanded to include sculptors, poets, architects, composers and musicians. They were attracted by the scenery and quality of the light in the area and took up plein air painting influenced partly by the French impressionists, although realist movements such as the Barbizon school also remained a very strong influence. They thus broke away from the rather rigid traditions of the academies of fine arts, espousing instead the trends they had learned in Paris.
Fishermen on Skagen Nordstrand. Summer evening (1891) by P.S. KrøyerSkagens Museum
"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
A field sermon. Figure study (1903) by Anna AncherSkagens Museum
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.
Young harvester riding home (1915) by Michael AncherSkagens Museum
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.
Moonrise over the dunes (1883) by Eilif PeterssenSkagens Museum
This is one of the only five paintings we know that Norwegian artist Eilif Peterssen (1858-1928) made while visiting Skagen in 1883. It has darkened considerably since then, and it can be hard to make out all the details.
The horizon is relatively high in the picture, perhaps inspired by Japanese art, which was at the height of fashion at this time.
The orange-yellow moon contrasts with the green lyme grass, while the sea can be glimpsed in the background.
Midsummer Eve bonfire on Skagen's beach (1906) by P.S. KrøyerSkagens Museum
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
It is the first time Krøyer depicts the locals together with the artists. The artists and members of the bourgeoisie are positioned in the bright, left side of the painting.
The majority of the locals are placed on the darker right side.
Fisher boy sitting beside a wheelbarrow. Skagen South Beach (1884) by P.S. KrøyerSkagens Museum
The blue hour
Colours are often used to indicate a particular mood. Blue is generally used in language, music and painting to describe a quiet, melancholic and often somewhat romantic atmosphere. Works of music, both classical and jazz, often have titles, which include the colour blue: for example the jazz trumpeter Miles Davis’s famous number ‘Kind of Blue’. The word “nocturne” is used to describe the same sort of mood, and is borrowed from the world of music, where it indicates a note in the scale, which can put us in the same mood as the colour blue.
Summer evening on Skagen Sønderstrand (1893) by Peder Severin KrøyerSkagens Museum
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.”
Summer evening at Skagen (1892) by P.S. KrøyerSkagens Museum
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.
Fishing boats on the sea by the light of a full moon (1884) by Wilhelm XylanderSkagens Museum
Several of the Skagen painters started out as marine painters, some of them remained so their whole career.
Wilhelm Xylander visited Skagen already in 1872, at the same time as Carl Locher, staying in Brøndum's Hotel. Most of his works from Skagen are from 1884, when he visited again.
Fishing cutters in the moonlit night (1888) by Carl LocherSkagens Museum
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 front of Christoffer's house. A midsummer evening, Skagen (1885) by P.S. KrøyerSkagens Museum
Young girl in front of a lighted lamp (1887) by Anna AncherSkagens Museum
Anna Ancher was the Skagen painter, who went furthest in dissolving the subject in favour of colours, surfaces and the moods and vagaries of light.
Several of her works have a completely different mood from that of the naturalistic paintings we typically associate with the Skagen painters.
Evening prayers (1888) by Anna AncherSkagens Museum
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.”
Appraising the Day's Work (1883) by Anna Ancher and Michael AncherSkagens Museum
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.
Grief (1902) by Anna AncherSkagens Museum
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