Art + Photography

The Skagen Painters, Still Influential After More than a Century

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It’s been said that what the Impressionists were to France, the Skagen school of painters were to Denmark. The movement began in the late 1870s, when the arts colony now known as the Skagen Painters adopted this remote fishing village as its home. Why Skagen? To begin with, the quality and purity of light at this northernmost settlement in Denmark acted as a beacon to the painters. The locale was also at a remove from Copenhagen's academic influences. And not least of the lures was the hospitality of the Skagen locals.

The dining table at Brøndums Hotel became their regular meeting place and, in effect, the center of the artist’s colony. What’s more, one of the painters, Michael Ancher, married the hotel owners' daughter, Anna, forging a union that would become the cornerstone of a flourishing artistic community. In the years that followed, Holger Drachmann, Viggo Johansen, Karl Madsen, P.S. and Marie Krøyer, Laurits Tuxen, Carl Locher and Thorvald Niss were all drawn to this spot at the northern tip of Denmark.

It’s said that regardless of what drew each painter to Skagen, it was the incredible quality of light that convinced them to stay. Krøyer himself was especially fond of the “blue hour”—that time when the sky turns intensely blue and darkness draws near, causing sky and sea to seemingly merge. Inspired by the work of French Impressionists, the artists provided a plein air rendering of two very different subjects: the charmed, sophisticated lives of the aristocracy and the gritty, weather-beaten reality of local fishermen.

P.S. Krøyer is thought to have brought an international influence of sorts to the group, causing the painters to shift from naturalism to the more poetic, even symbolic paintings of the 1890s. The Skagen Painters captured late-19th century life with incredible precision and detail. This highly accurate visual account, in juxtaposition with the distinctive Skagen light, is what makes the Skagen Painters’ art so widely celebrated and recognizable.

Even now the Skagen Painters exercise a magnetic pull on the imagination. Their paintings can often be found touring cities across the globe and, as if in response, drawing people from around the world to visit Skagen each year.