Skagen (pronounced Skay-en) is poised on the northernmost tip of Denmark. The headland is one of the largest spits of sand in the world, jutting into the wild North Sea. The light quality of the area is so luminous it has attracted artists for centuries. By the 1880s, a robust community known as the Skagen Painters called the area home, or at least their summer home. All strove to capture the area’s magical quality of light on canvas. One of the most successful was Peder Severin Kroyer (1851-1909).
Today we point a cell phone camera and shoot. Even the lowliest phones have filters to bring our photos to the blue light. But this was a time when painters needed talent and skill to capture the light.
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.
Fishermen, other local people and beautiful landscapes were favorite topics. Many of their most famous paintings depict their own group gathering for meals, parties, meetings or just walking on the beach.
Peder Severin Kroyer first came to Skagen in 1882. He returned each summer until he made it his full time home in 1889 after marrying Marie Triepcke. By that time he was already known for his paintings of fishermen. His great body of work inspired by Skagen was yet to come.
Kroyer was able to study and travel thanks to the patronage of Heinrich Hirschsprung. The Impressionists he met while travelling through France had influenced his work. Among them were Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
The Blue Hour (from French l’heure bleue) is a fleeting period of twilight when the sun is so far below the horizon that the blue wavelengths of light dominate.
For romantics, l’heure bleue is that glorious time when the water and sky become one, when shadows grow longer and everything glows blue. It is that magical time when we can take a fresh look at the world around us—in a new light.
For science buffs, TimeAndDate.com explains:
“The different colors of twilight are created by an atmospheric scattering effect. As the solar elevation angle—the angle of the Sun above or below the horizon—changes during the transition between day and night, different wavelengths are filtered out by the Earth’s atmosphere, leaving the remaining rays of light to color the sky in ever-changing hues.
During the blue hour, the Sun is so far below the horizon that the atmosphere scatters only the short-wave blue light, sending it back to Earth. Meanwhile, the longer red wavelengths pass through it and into space.”
Harald Slott-Moller studied with Kroyer for three years in the 1880s. Moller and his wife later were founding members of The Free Exhibition (Den Frie Udstillig) in 1891. Modeled after the Exhibition of Rejects (Salon de Refuses) in France, the Danish artists’ association formed in protest of the rigid admission requirements of the Kunsthal Charlottenborg.
#1 Sadly, Kroyer’s wife was a talented painter, but remained in the shadows of her husband’s work. Like many female painters of the Victorian Era, she did not get the attention she deserved. Marie is remembered more as the subject of some of her husband’s best-known paintings than for her own work.
#2 Hugo Alfven fell in love with Marie because of the paintings in which her husband had featured her. Alfven had an affair with her and a child and eventually they married. Only the Anchers remained friends with Marie.
#3 In 1890, the railway’s arrival in Skagen led to the expansion of the beautiful village. With it came throngs of tourists and wealthy Danes. As with so many idyllic coastal areas (including Malibu in California), the unpleasant changes ruined the peace and beauty. Growth brought by railroads eventually broke up the regular summer meetings of the Skagen Artists.
“Blue September is a must-see celebration in Skagen. In September the twilight hour between night and day takes on a particularly magical blue light, as the sea and sky seem to merge together and light up the colors of nature in a unique way. During this month artistic and cultural events, workshops and experiences celebrate this natural phenomenon.
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