The Skagen Painters, including Anna Ancher, are often associated with the movement of Naturalism, which aimed to represent the world as accurately as possible. But if we explore the way Anna Ancher builds up her works, we discover how she simplifies and pares back the subjects she depicts. Perhaps her pictures are not so naturalistic and true to life after all?
Her inspiration for simplifying her art came from different places. When Anna Ancher spent six months in Paris in 1889 to take part in the world’s fair there, she studied under the renowned French painter Puvis de Chavannes. He was known for paring back his images and emphasise their monumental aspects. At the same time, a wave of interest in Japanese art swept across Europe. Anna Ancher’s old teacher and friend Karl Madsen played an important role in this regard. He published a book on Japanese painting in 1885 and made sure that Danish artists became acquainted with the special qualities of Japanese art, including its sharply cropped subjects and the abolition of perspective in the Western sense.
Armed with such inspiration, Anna Ancher developed her own style of painting. She would often return to the same subject over and over again. Repeating a single theme enabled her to experiment with different solutions. She tested the extent to which a background can be simplified, how empty the pictorial space can be allowed to be. In this process, painting is reduced so that it moves further and further away from being a true representation of the world, instead becoming more abstract studies on a piece of canvas.
Photo: Anna Ancher, At Noon. Study, Ca. 1914. Art Museums of Skagen.