The Skagen Terrain: Land and Sea Paintings

“Skagen was a magical city of beaches entirely surrounded by water,” writes Skagens museum curator Mette Bogh Jensen in the exhibition catalogue. 

As one of the thematic sections of A World Apart: Anna Ancher and the Skagen Art Colony, “Land and Sea” showcases the artists’ fascination with the unspoiled landscape of the seaside town.

Carl Locher, The mail coach, 1885,  Oil on canvas, 23 ⅝ x 37 ¾ in.; Skagens Museum

Carl Locher, The mail coach, 1885, Oil on canvas, 23 ⅝ x 37 ¾ in.; Skagens Museum

Skagen’s beaches, fields, and “special light,” were well-suited for artists who wanted to pursue painting en plein air, or outdoors.

Adventurous artists and visitors traveling to remote Skagen had to spend the better part of a day in a horse-drawn carriage along the shore, as depicted in Carl Locher’s The mail coach. The thickly impastoed scene shows sandy dunes with a carriage approaching in the distance.

Among the most dramatic depictions of outdoor subjects are large-scale scenes of fishermen at work, often presenting turbulent seas and thunderous clouds. Painters such as P.S. Krøyer found themselves frequently frustrated by the weather: they couldn’t easily work outside during storms, but on calm-weathered days when they were eager to paint from life, their models—fishermen from the town—needed to be working at sea.

Michael Ancher, A stroll on the beach, 1896, Oil on canvas, 27 ⅛ x 63 ⅜ in.; Skagens Museum

Michael Ancher, A stroll on the beach, 1896, Oil on canvas, 27 ⅛ x 63 ⅜ in.; Skagens Museum

However, Skagen’s beach also became a place of leisure and recreation after an increase in tourism in 1890. Michael Ancher’s A stroll on the beach perpetuates this idealized view of Skagen life by showing middle-class women enjoying the bucolic setting.

Furthermore, sea views were not the only nature scenes worth depicting. Skagen also had fertile fields where farmers grew a variety of grains.

Anna Ancher, Harvesters, 1905, Oil on canvas, 17 ⅛ x 22 ⅛ in.; Skagens Museum

Anna Ancher, Harvesters, 1905, Oil on canvas, 17 ⅛ x 22 ⅛ in.; Skagens Museum

In The Harvesters, Anna Ancher portrays laborers returning from the fields. She was “the only Skagen painter who painted the cultivated landscapes,” as Jensen revealed in a gallery talk.

Skagen’s terrain was both rugged and pastoral, providing the burgeoning artist colony with a plethora of compelling subject matter.

—Emily Haight is the publications and marketing/communication intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. 

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