Sunlight falling onto a wall is Anna Ancher’s key recurring motif. Right from her earliest breakthrough in the early 1880s to her latest light-filled depictions of rooms in the 1920s, she explored light. Anna Ancher was by no means alone in being preoccupied with light. In France, Impressionists such as Claude Monet (1840–1926) sought ways of capturing immediate and fleeting impressions – including the play of light and Denmark, artists such as Theodor Philipsen (1840–1920), Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864–1916) and Valdemar Schønheyder Møller (1864–1905) also worked with the painterly challenge of how to portray light.
Moreover, In the 1890s, the Vitalist movement emerged, seeing the sun and light itself as a life-giving force that permeates the world. Anna Ancher has not previously been associated with Vitalism, perhaps because it is often interpreted as an emphatically masculine movement. In the arts, light can also have spiritual significance, becoming a symbol of something transcendent or the presence of the divine. However, such religious dimensions tend to be quickly dismissed in the case of Anna Ancher. She is traditionally regarded as part of the Modern Breakthrough movement, which celebrated science and had no time for religion.
But perhaps things are not quite so clear-cut. Considering these different perspectives on light together paves the way for seeing how Anna Ancher’s painting combines our worldly, sensory experience of light with studies of its spiritual aspects.
Photo: Anna Ancher, Evening sun in the artist's studio at Markvej, Earliest 1913. Art Museums of Skagen.