Director's Gallery: Skagens Museum

The years between 1870 - 1930 were a great era in both Danish and international art history, and for Skagen this meant that the isolated fishing village became the center of a colony of primarily Scandinavian artists. Skagen Museum was founded specifically to preserve the painters in the environment that they worked in and that is in itself pretty unique. We work with collections and museums all over the world both in the form of exhibition collaborations, research projects etc. If it is deemed appropriate, we also include contemporary art or, for example, art that predates the Skagen painters, to provide perspectives and challenge the collection or to allow them to enter into a dialogue with history and the present. Our primary focus is, however, still Krøyer, Ancher, Tuxen, Drachmann, Krohg and all the others. The museum has a collection of around 2000 works and new works are constantly being added - Lisette Vind Ebbesen, director of Skagens Museum - August 2013.

I grew up amongst cornfields and my grandparents were farmers. I remember holidays with them at harvesting time as something really special. The smell of newly harvested corn and the bustle in the field, where I borrowed my grandfather's cap to avoid getting too hot. Long, wonderful days which ended with us sitting on top of a stack of hay bales on the way home while the sun went down. Anna Ancher has painted similar motifs including the prime example, "At harvest time", which hangs at the Fuglsang Art museum.
One of the smallest paintings in the museum in terms of its size, but it occupies a lot of space in the minds of the people who see it. It was produced during the honeymoon journey of Marie and P.S. Krøyer to Italy in 1890, he painted her and she painted him - she is beautiful and he seems intense, but also naked and vulnerable. It is striking to see how Marie seems to have penetrated his facade rather than the reverse.
Like the double portrait, painted on a honeymoon to Italy. A small, almost modest work painted on wood in something resembling a postcard size and perhaps even intended as such. Marie works elegantly with the reddish nuances and allows the colour and structure of the wood to become a part of the composition. Underneath is written, "Oh, what would have become of me had I not had this little helper".
There is an incredible peace and harmony in the image. Anna Ancher depicts again the intimate, unobtrusive motifs - but the most important part of the picture is actually the light entering through the window and lighting up the entire curtain. It is a very early work by Anna Ancher, but it is a good indication of the direction that her painting would take. The kitchen is also in the picture - and this is significant for us - the kitchen in the old Garden House in Skagen's Museum's garden, which has been converted into the museum's café.
Anna painted many portraits of her mother after she had withdrawn from the daily running of the hotel and the two of them had more time to spend together, usually in the innermost sanctum of the hotel, the blue room. It is a series of pictures over time showing the daughter's love of her mother and how Anna Ancher, of all the Skagen painters, managed to get light and colour surfaces to work together. 
The first time I, as a young art history student, actually understood what Nordic Expressionism was all about, was when I saw Philipsen's cows. Michael Ancher met Philipsen, by chance, at a very young age and it was this meeting and his pictures that motivated Ancher to start painting himself. 
Inventory number 544, also known as "The Director's favourite picture". There is so much sand and sky, but what colours does sand actually consist of? And then there is the composition, tight and surprising - almost like a snapshot from a long lost summer evening. It is an image and an atmosphere one never gets tired of looking at
Sorolla is, for me, Krøyer's Spanish counterpart. There are, of course, many differences between the two of them, but when one looks at how often they share the choice of motif, the working method and a fascination for light, one cannot help but notice an unusual similarity. They were both virtuosos in their field, and it would not be surprising if they were aware of each others' works. In any event, it is remarkable that Sorolla painted this in 1909, the year that Krøyer died.
It is the colour, rather than the content, that creates the picture here, and there is a fantastic balance and calm, which complements the motif and the title beautifully. The museum has long dreamed of being allowed to show Sorolla and Krøyer side by side - either in Madrid or in Skagen.
The aesthetics of Høst's imagery is deeply fascinating and one of the reasons why I chose to study art history. He painted Bognemark farm on Bornholm countless times in different light, seasons and with different expressions; from the harmonic and calm to the very dramatic. Høst was inspired by Cézanne, but said, "we have our seasons, the light nights, the phantasm with which we must contend, whilst Cézanne lived in a place where there wasn't actually any weather, due to the fact that it was always the same."
Skagens Museum celebrated its centenary in 2008, but the biggest event of the year - at least for me - was that we managed to acquire Krøyer's Roses for the museum's collection. The picture was given to the museum by an anonymous donor after it had been in private ownership since it had been painted. It shows Marie Krøyer sitting in the garden behind the couple's rented house in Skagen - and the roses, Alba Maxima, are the same roses as the ones we have in the museum's garden today. I think this is one of Krøyer's most beautiful paintings.
Lush, Tuxen could really get the most out of the colour red. The sun is not visible, but one can still see how the sunshine teases the eye and almost dissolves the motif. The picture is from Tuxen's summer house Dagminne in Skagen, where he stayed a lot after 1901 and from a period in his career when he worked on subjects that were close to hand such as family and the surrounding nature as opposed to earlier periods where he was busy painting Royal portraits in the European Royal houses.
The gardens in Skagen are a feature of the town that many residents of Skagen take great pride in. The very first painting in the Skagen Museum collection, The entrance to our garden, shows the garden in front of Michael and Anna Ancher's house on Markvej, which the family moved into in 1884. It is a painting which is in stark contrast, in the best possible way, to P.S. Krøyer's and Tuxen's famously idealised garden pictures. The beautiful pear tree on the right hand side still stands today where the house has been turned into a museum a stone's throw from Skagens Museum on Brøndumsvej.
Købke belonged to the the Golden Age of Danish painting, a period that was at its peak in the first half of the 1800's and was thus the period that immediately preceded the realism of the Skagen painters at the beginning of the 1870's. There is an incredible calm and atmosphere in Købke's landscape paintings, but despite this, the composition is both bold and brash - especially considering the era in which it was painted.
There is an overwhelming power in Kiefer's paintings. They have both grandeur and beauty and are still gruesome and endlessly cold at the same time. It is landscape painting of the most heartless kind - and yet there are elements in his brushwork and stylistic expression that derive from the fin de siècle painterly tradition.
He trained as an architect, thought like an artist and worked like a craftsman - Thorvald Bindesbøll has left his mark on many things in Denmark and is also known as the man behind the Carlsberg logo. He has also made many beautiful ceramic works and drawn the characteristic fish warehouses on Skagen harbour. He was ahead of his time in all senses and an interesting and unusual guy who was not just like everyone else.
There is a particularly beautiful Krohg picture which represents the artist's wife Oda painting the local Skagen fisherman, Niels Gaihede. The perspective, the composition and the space are a bit skew, but still contain a really good balance in the picture. Oda and Christian were just one of several artist couples amongst the Skagen painters, which was remarkable for an era in which it was not only difficult for women to get training in painting and drawing, but in which it was also expected that a woman give up her own career when she got married.
Is it mankind or the creation of the artwork that it "divine". are we active creators as the "you" indicates? Barbara Kruger is bitingly political, Pop Art and Postmodernist all at the same time and by dint of her career perhaps also a forerunner of pop culture's Internet memes? I would love to see how she would interpret some of the paintings of the Skagen painters….
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