‘By the fireside’ P.S.Krøyer (picture by ATN)

Skagen is Denmark’s northernmost village, all the way to the confluence of the Grenen tip where the North Sea channels into the Kattegat and then becomes the Baltic Sea, on the isthmus wedged between Norway and Sweden. The effects of the golden and blue hour that attract photographers and cinematographers so much since the late 1870s are amplified both during summer and winter: this is why Scandinavian artists converged on Skagen to fix the light effect that bathed houses, dunes and faces. Influenced by the French Impressionists, they successfully attempted their own “en plein air” practice, diverging from the teachings of the academies, the landscape and the local population being extraordinary accomplices in this attraction. The beaches of Jutland stretch for kilometres and, just like 150 years ago, the Danes still climb the Råbjerg Mile dune to enjoy the sunset: walking through the forest and low vegetation is a suspension from everyday ordinariness. The origin of Skagen is ancient, dating back at least to the Viking sites that brush past on the way north, like the necropolis of Lindholm Høje or the largest Norse fortress found in Aggersborg, with its perfect circle still marking the site, an example of ‘land art’ ante litteram. In 1874 the painters Karl Madsen and Michael Ancher came to Skagen to observe and paint the locals: their meeting with the Brøndum family, owners of the hotel of the same name, lit the fire that later attracted generations of artists. Madsen and Ancher became regulars, appreciating the small village for its tranquillity and for being a source of inspiration due to the simple lifestyle of the inhabitants, who lived off the sea and simple farming. Then there was the light… by word of mouth, other artists arrived, a sense of conviviality emerged and it all made the Skagen School unique. Among the most prominent were the Danish natives Krøyer, Ancher, Johansen, Madsen, Tuxen, Locher and Niss, who were joined by Swedes and Norwegians, and Scandinavian picture galleries today house their works. Michael Ancher married the local painter Anna Brøndum, while Viggo Johansen became attached to Anna’s cousin: together they created a community bond that is often depicted in paintings. Encouraged by Anna, the Brøndum hoteliers offered hospitality in exchange for paintings, so the hotel’s living room became a gallery, later donated to the municipality and now faithfully displayed in the local Skagens Museum. The Brøndum family still runs the hotel and Skagen continues to attract artists and dreamers: art galleries are numerous, and one is even located at the foot of the Grenen Lighthouse.