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Anne Sophie Petersen Painted Mystical Light

Anne Sophie Petersen mastered mystical light in her most famous paintings of profound moments from life in Denmark and Europe in the late 1800s. She exhibited internationally even at a time when women’s creations were widely considered inferior to those of men. Despite some early success, she her career eventually stalled.

According to Danish Cultural Heritage, Anne Sophie Petersen did not sell works to museums while she was alive.  She suffered from an increasing “nervous restlessness” that gradually deprived her of her ability to work. Then in 1991, the Hirschsprung Collection and Statens Museum for Kunst acquired some of her work.  Her paintings continue to shine light into the 21st century.

Four Things To Know From the career of Anne Sophie Petersen

#1-She Received Professional Training, But Women Were Denied Access

Born in Copenhagen, Annie Sophie Petersen (February 20 1845 – October 6,1910) had more educational opportunities than most Danish girls of her time. According to arcadiasystems.org, Petersen earned her degree at the Industrial Design School for Women in Copenhagen. She later apprenticed with Jean-Jacques Henner. In 1890 she studied with Vigo Johansen at the Art School for Women.

Until the late 1800s, women were not allowed to enroll at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. Female students were not sanctioned to paint nude models, nor were they welcomed into societies of male artists. According to the Hirschsprung, “…in the 1870s and 1880s a group of women artists, known as the ‘pioneer generation’, fought to obtain a fine-art education on a par with their male colleagues.”

In 1876 the private School of Drawing and Decorative Art for Women (Tegne- og Kunstindustriskolen for Kvinder) opened. In 1888 the Academy opened a special line for women artists. In 1908 the academy merged its Art School for Women with the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts.”

#2-Anne Sophie Petersen Captured Glowing Light


Like so many of her fellow Scandinavian artists, she mastered light on the canvas. Two of her most successful paintings depict lanterns in the Saint Martin Day celebration.

She visited Skagen in 1889. The Skagen Painters were mainly Danish artists. They gathered in the fishing village of Skagen each summer from the late 1870s until the turn of the century. It was a tight-knit group of friends and colleagues coalesced by Michael and Anna Ancher.


Spectacular scenery and quality of light inspired them to paint en plein air in the vein of the French Impressionists. Having broken away from the rigid rules of the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts and the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, their subject matter largely came from daily life in the village.


Petersen depicted Anne Anna Ancher in An Evening with Girlfriends. By Lamplight in 1891. She also met with several of the Skagen group at the Paris Exposition.


#3-She Exhibited At Prestigious Galleries and Other Venues


In 1883 she made her debut at the Charlottenborg Spring Exhibition, at the former site of a Botanical Garden at the Palace of Charlottenborg. She exhibited there several times until 1910.


She exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889, along with numerous Nordic artists including several of the Skagen painters. The prestigious exhibit ran from May 6 to October 31, attracting more than thirty-two million visitors. Many products, inventions and art works were exhibited. Among the most famous was the Eiffel Tower.

Anne Sophie Petersen was invited to exhibit several of her paintings at the Palace of Fine Arts for women at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois. At a time when many people still considered female artists inferior to their male counterparts, the Exposition committee included works from hundreds of female American and International artists.

When dissension arose over the question of segregating women’s achievements in a separate building,

The Board of Lady Managers for the Woman’s Pavilion at the fair initially opposed exhibiting women’s creations separately.  They argued that women artists should engage in free competition in the general juried awards.  Eventually the plan proceeded thanks to the volume of high quality work that was submitted.

The History of the World’s Fair states: “It will be a long time before such an aggregation of woman’s work, as may now be seen in the Woman’s Building, can be gathered from all parts of the world again.”

Among the many celebrated female artists of the time were Mary Cassatt who painted a large mural and Clara Driscoll, designer and innovator of some of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s lamps and other products. 

#4-She Supported the Suffragists


Annie Sophie Petersen painted several notable works. Among the most famous is An Evening with Girlfriends. By Lamplight,1891. The women depicted were all contemporary artists. They are the Danish painters Marie Kroyer, Bertha Wegmann (lying down) and the Swedish Painter Jeanna Bauck. They are listening to the Danish violinist Frida Schytte.

According to the Hirschsprung Collection, which owns the painting, Petersen had gathered together these Scandinavian pioneers for the movement for women’s right to express themselves in the arts imbued the painting with a certain emblematic quality.

The Hirschsprung Collection held a small exhibition in 2009. Petersen’s work, which had largely been forgotten, was the focal point. Their 2015 exhibition in celebration of the centenary of women’s suffrage in Denmark included works by seven female artists. Anne Sophie Petersen stood among them.

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