Northern Lights

“The blue hour of Peder Severin Kroyer”

At the Marmottan-Monet Museum, in Paris (1)

Marie Kroyer and her friend take advantage of the mild summer evening to stroll on the beach. The sun has just vanished on the horizon and night has not yet fallen. The magic of the “blue hour” operates: the sky and the sea merge into the same pure, almost purple hue, and a subtle golden light turns the white muslin dresses and the necks of the two young women pink.

They have life in front of them, seems to suggest the long path that stretches along the shore. This painting, titled Calm evening on Skagen beach, is undoubtedly the best known – and the most beautiful – of Peder Severin Kroyer (1851-1909). It was painted in 1893 on this peninsula in the far north of Denmark, where a colony of artists, musicians and poets had established themselves, drawn to this fishing village by the authenticity of the landscapes and the endless twilights of northern latitudes. Peder Severin Kroyer spent his summers there, before moving to Copenhagen in winter to teach and produce commissioned paintings, official portraits of notables and their wise little daughters in smocked dresses.

Organized in the wake of “The Golden Age of Danish Painting”, which brought together painters of the previous generation (Eckersberg, Kobke, Hansen) at the Petit Palais this winter, the retrospective of the Marmottan-Monet Museum reports on this duality: on the one hand we discover the academic painter, rewarded in the Salons, with a slightly fixed touch, and on the other the sensitive chronicler of everyday life and the virtuoso landscape painter, playing with the thousand and one shades of the sky and the sea.

In a touching sketch, a little girl sulks, the can in front. The final composition, which unfortunately remained in Copenhagen, reveals the reason for her discontent: she watches a group of boys play in the water, which she probably does not have the right to join. Further on, Kroyer captures ephemeral pleasures: the break of the fishermen lying on the sand, his wife Marie reading in the shade of a white rosebush, a discussion between villagers in front of a mud house, a toast between friends in the middle of a garden.

If the Danish painter flirts with Impressionism, whose audacity he has seen during his numerous trips to Paris, he will never adopt the free touch overflowing with the motif. He took a liking to painting in the open air (an amusing photograph shows him installed on the beach with his easel and his parasol) but his play of light, his colored shadows, rather make one think of his contemporary Joaquin Sorolla. He shares the humanism of the Spanish naturalist painter and will endeavor to return the effort of the working classes, including these fishermen hoisting the sail or pulling the nets out of the water. But he will abandon these themes to focus on atmospheres and the simple joys of life. Like the blissful smile of the naked boy tasting the freshness of the water.


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