The present recently rediscovered work, Anna Ancher and Marie Krøyer on the Beach at Skagen is one of four recorded preparatory oil paintings that relate to Krøyer's iconic, large scale 'blue period' masterpiece Summer Evening on Skagen's South Beach (fig. 1). Painted in 1893, the motif is the high point of the artist’s exploration of mood painting.
The final painting in the Skagen Museum, Denmark, and the four related oils capture the carefree existence and cosmopolitan elegance that defined the isolated painting community that flourished in Skagen at the tip of Jutland at the end of the 19th Century. Compellingly evocative of the end of the nineteenth century, the image has proved enduringly popular; its lyricism continues to resonate in the imagination to this day, not only across Denmark but the world-over.
Depicting Marie Krøyer, the painter's wife, with Anna Ancher arm in arm walking along the shore on Skagen's South Beach, the scene was inspired by a post-dinner-party stroll with Krøyer and Marie, fellow Skagen artists Michael and Anna Ancher, and authors Otto Benzon and Sophus Schandorph and their wives. Kroyer described the thrill of completing the final larger canvas in a letter to the Schandorphs of 5th September 1893: 'After I had painted studies of various kinds for it for about a month, one beautiful morning I started to paint up on the canvas and on the evening of the fourth day the picture was as it stands.' (quoted in Krøyer, An International Perspective, The Hirschsprung Collection and Skagens Museum, exh. cat, 2011-2012, p. 304).
Krøyer first went to Skagen in 1882. Already widely travelled, a regular visitor to Paris and an exhibitor at the annual Paris Salon, Krøyer brought with him a worldliness that was in notable contrast to the fishermen and the majority of artists that lived there. His visit followed his meeting with Michael Ancher in Vienna a year earlier. Ancher had settled in Skagen to paint in 1874, and later married Anna Brøndum, a fellow artist and daughter of the owner of Brøndum’s, the only inn in the village. Dedicated to the local community, the couple remained in Skagen for the rest of their lives.
Like the Anchers, Krøyer became captivated by Skagen’s light, landscape, and the simple life of the local community. In the years that followed he returned annually during the summer months, spending the rest of the year travelling or in Copenhagen where he kept a studio. In the summer of 1889 he married Marie Triepcke, whom he had met in Paris. Together the couple made the most of Skagen’s close knit artistic camaraderie, enjoying the company of the writers, musicians, intellectuals and artists who gathered there during the summer. The more celebrated visitors included the Norwegians Frits Thaulow, Christian Krohg, and Hans Jaeger and the scholar Georg Brandes.
In Krøyer’s earliest Skagen compositions he painted the everyday life of the fishermen at work in the Social-Realist style widely popular at the time, and celebrated the collective activity of the artists that he lived and worked among in such important works as Hip, Hip, Hurrah! Artists’ Party (Gothenburg Museum of Art). As his attachment to Skagen grew stronger, however he started to examine the vast expanses of sea, sand and sky that defined the landscape, painting the fishermen at work and figures in a landscape with increasingly Symbolist overtones.
His interest in such mood painting reflected the styles of other artists that he had come in to contact with on his travels. A particularly strong influence on him was the work of the American painter James McNeill Whistler. Whistler and Krøyer showed together in several exhibitions, and Krøyer would have seen Whistler’s monochrome ‘nocturnes’ in different exhibitions in Paris and London during the 1880s and early 1890s. The atmospheric works of his friend, the Norwegian Eilif Peterssen who too painted in Skagen also coloured Krøyer’s imagination.
The other three oils that also relate to the larger composition Summer Evening on Skagen’s South Beach in the Skagen Museum comprise two landscape studies of the shoreline with Marie and Anna in the distance (fig. 2 & 3), and one other slightly larger square format figure study (fig. 4). In addition there exist two photographs taken by Krøyer of the ladies (fig. 5). The two landscape studies, now in the Hirschprung Collection, Copenhagen capture the scene that Krøyer had witnessed after dinner with his friends of two elegant ladies walking by the shoreline, surrounded by the tranquil expanse of the surrounding land and sea. In preparation for transferring the motif onto the final large scale canvas, he took photographs of his wife with Anna walking along the shore. He then painted the present oil and subsequently the slightly larger version now in a private UK collection, before embarking on the final full scale composition.
The power of the composition was fully appreciated by Krøyer’s fellow artists at Skagen, and especially prized by Michael Ancher, who borrowed the present work to admire, and ended up secretly copying it. Clearly embarrassed, it was only a few months later that Ancher rather sheepishly confessed the matter to Krøyer. He wrote: ‘There is something on my conscience which I didn’t manage to tell you in the summer…You remember I borrowed the little study of Anna and Marie on the beach to compare it with some of my paintings of ladies. When I came home in the summer, before you came, I felt a great urge one rainy day to copy it, and so I did, because I thought it would be fun to have it on the wall.’ (quoted in P.S. Krøyers fotografier, exh. cat, Copenhagen, 1990, p. 157). Ancher’s copy, the exact same size as the present painting, is in the collection of the Michael and Anna Ancher House, Skagen.
Until the recent re-appearance of the present work, the painting Ancher was assumed to have copied was the other, slightly larger, related figure study (fig. 3). However, it is clear from comparison of Ancher's canvas with the present oil that it is this painting - the smaller of the two and Krøyer's first version - that Ancher borrowed and copied and not the other already well-recorded figure study as previously thought. This is evident, for example, in the similar positioning of the scarf in Anna Ancher’s left hand, as well as the virtually identical measurements.
Krøyer explored his ‘blue paintings’ later the same decade, notably in Summer Evening on the Beach at Skagen in which he depicts himself with Marie walking towards the viewer, which he exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900. But neither this nor his other later works express quite the same level of consummate perfection that he achieved in Summer Evening on Skagen’s South Beach. Instead it was to be other painters, such as Edvard Munch, who developed the idea of 'mood painting' further, transposing Krøyer’s 19th-century idyll into a motif of existential angst for the next century.
Krøyer exhibited the finished version of Summer Evening on Skagen’s South Beach at the Salon de Champ de Mars in Paris in 1895, and later the same year in Munich with the Secessionists, selling it to the German opera singer Lilli Lehman. Of the smaller related landscapes Krøyer dedicated one to the Schandorphs and the other to Hirschprung. The present work was acquired by Queen Margherita of Italy, in whose collection it was recorded by Christensen in his 1923 listing of Krøyer's oil paintings. The work has remained with the Royal House of Savoy ever since until being acquired by the present owner in the spring of this year.