Exhibition Review: The Legacy of the Ancher’s, Skagen Museum

The exhibition Arven fra Anchers, or The Legacy of the Ancher’s, is currently on show at the Skagen Museum, and provides a superb insight into the artistic process of both Michael and Anna Ancher, as well as the impact an artistic upbringing had on their only child Helga.

Michael Ancher: Girl with Sunflowers. Image: Skagenskunstmuseer.

Upon entering, it is Michael Ancher’s Girl with Sunflowers (1893) which holds centre place. This work was one of two versions, this painting being the later example, created by Ancher so as to replace the original in the Ancher family home, when it was out on loan. It is a moment of summer, while the weather outside is blustery and rainy – the sunflowers planted outside the museum, wilting because of the harsh conditions. It is moreover among the few finished works displayed within. Indeed, this exhibition is as much a continuation of the museum as a whole, where sketches and finished pieces intertwine. The high regard held for the sketch both in the exhibition is in this instance, intricately explored in the works of the Ancher family.


The focus of The Legacy of the Ancher’s rests mainly on displaying rarely before seen sketches by both Ancher and his wife Anna, a large number of which come from the archives of the artists’. It furthermore includes, primarily in the final room, works that were exchanged, purchased or gifted by friends and colleagues throughout the course of their lives. Here, in a darker room, more fragile pencil sketches by the Ancher’s are shown alongside works by the likes of P.S.Krøyer and others. From all of these sketches, whether done in oil on canvas or pencil on paper, we gain an insight into the artist’s process, with many of those on display representing the preliminary stages of many of their most famous and recognised works. For example, the sketches undertaken by Michael Ancher for his painting of Anna, entitled Anna Ancher Returning from the Field (1902), adorn the far left wall, the sketches themselves are wonderful examples of the artist’s skill and ingenuity. We see the finished painting, which hangs within the main gallery of the Skagen Museum, emerging from the, at times, crude sketches. Although the finished painting is masterful in its execution, it is these precursory works which enable us to understand how this finished piece materialised.

Image: Skagenskunstmuseer

The opposite wall focuses on Anna Ancher’s own artistic endeavours including a beautifully executed painting, almost photographic in its portrayal, which reveals a sleeping girl, dressed in a white and vivid blue frock. It is captivating, and utterly compelling, the vitality of colour drawing you into this inconspicuous corner of the exhibition. The yellow irises a repetitive motif in the works of Anna, as seen also in the foreground of her symbolic painting, Yellow Irises, featured in the new acquisitions room of the main gallery. It is a painting of femininity, this corner of female beauty, in the work of both Anna and Michael providing a contrast to the landscapes that occupy much of the next wall.

For many the works of the Skagen painters evoke white beaches and crisp blue skies, as seen most famously in Krøyer’s Summer Evening on the South Beach (1893). The exploration of these blue skies becomes furthermore apparent in loose studies undertaken by Michael Ancher. Here, a trio of cloudscapes show the studious nature of the artist, studying from nature, learning and assimilating this into his finished works. This wall of smaller studies, is what is often missing from galleries – the artist him- or herself constantly learning. It is these cruder sketches which later come to be found in the larger, more imposing, canvases.


The Legacy of the Ancher’s however does not merely concern itself with the art of the two notorious Skagen painters, but also with the impact their artistic lives had on their daughter. One wall within this display is dedicated to the painting of Helga Ancher, most notably in a prominent painting of a lion, mirrored in her father’s own painting of a lion on the opposite wall. It is the legacy of the parents that their child similarly endeavoured to paint, and with great skill moreover.

A masterfully put together exhibition, the Skagen Museum reveals an outstanding ability to appreciate the artistic worth of all elements of the artists’ process. In this exhibition in particular, focusing on those works in the archives of the Ancher family, the qualitative value of the sketch comes to the fore. It is shown to be a vital part of the artistic process, and equally important as the finished work. Indeed some oil sketches are hung on the walls without frames, the nature of the painting remaining as it was originally intended. You leave feeling you have learned something about the artists’ in question; a rare occurrence nowadays!

For more information on Skagen as a whole, keep an eye out for my next post which will follow shortly.


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