“When Ancher paints light, often it becomes the subject of the painting,” says Virginia Treanor, associate curator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. “Here, it is right in the middle of the painting. It is contained. It is geometric. In other paintings, there are a number of places where she has built up the light with thick impastoed paint, so it becomes very physical, almost like an object itself.”
“Sunlight in the Blue Room” is one of 64 paintings and oil sketches in the exhibition “A World Apart: Anna Ancher and the Skagen Art Colony,” which runs through May 12 at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
At its height in the 1880s and ’90s, Denmark’s Skagen Art Colony attracted dozens of artists who were drawn to the isolated fishing village by the light and the unspoiled land- and seascapes. While the exhibition focuses on Ancher, the most prominent woman, it also includes works by her husband, Michael Ancher, as well as Laurits Tuxen, Viggo Johansen, Christian Krohg, Oscar Bjorck, Holger Drachmann, Carl Locher and P.S. Kroyer, whose large-scale oil paintings capture the “heroic” life of fishermen in Skagen.
This is the first time a comprehensive selection of paintings by Anna Ancher has left Skagen, according to an official at the Danish Embassy, and provides a rare opportunity for audiences outside of Denmark to view the works, which are not scheduled to travel elsewhere.
“A World Apart” opened in conjunction with Nordic Cool, a festival at the Kennedy Center, which presents the cultures of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Greenland, Sweden, theAland Islands and the Faroe Islands.
The Anna Ancher show was inspired by a 2004 Women in the Arts exhibit (also called Nordic Cool), which focused on Nordic female designers. While working on that exhibit with the Danish Embassy, curators learned more about Ancher and traveled to Skagen to explore. They decided to create a new exhibition with Ancher as the focus; although the museum highlights female artists, the curators included male painters from the colony to put Anna Ancher’s work in context and show “she was the most avant-garde of the group of Skagen artists, pushing the envelope,” Treanor says.
Ancher, who was the only native of Skagen among the artists in the colony, became an icon in Denmark not only for her art but for breaking social boundaries. She was a wife and mother who painted at a time when most women abandoned work after they married and had children. She also painted during an era when women were prohibited from studying at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. Around the age of 16, she began traveling to Copenhagen for private art lessons and training. She also observed the painters who took rooms at her family’s hotel when they journeyed to Skagen, on Denmark’s Jutland peninsula. “It is a particular light that far north, especially during the summer time when the sun never sets,” Treanor says.