Peder Severin Kroyer was a Danish painter known for his elegant landscapes and portrayal of idyllic scenes, with his most famous work made at an art colony in Skagen. Kroyer is the foremost Impressionist painter of the Nordic countries and displayed a masterful use of the light and color in his realistic yet dreamlike compositions. Peder was also commercially successful during his life and after, as he was a highly celebrated artist in Denmark. By his mid-life, his work was already shown in Copenhagen, Paris, Munich, Chicago, Venice, and St. Petersburg. Kroyer became one of the main exponents of the Danish Impressionism, also known as the Skagen Painters.
Peder Severin Kroyer was born in July 1851, in the city of Stavanger, Norway. His mother wasn't able to raise young Peder, so he was raised by his aunt, Bertha, and his uncle, Henrik Nikolai Kroyer, a renowned Danish zoologist. He soon went to Copenhagen, Denmark, to live with his foster parents.
He started his artistic education when he was nine years old, learning from a private tutor. At this same age, his stepfather, who worked as a biologist, asked him to depict what he saw in a microscope. His drawings were so accurate that they were used in a scientific paper.
Kroyer studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Art, under the teachings of Frederik Vermehren. The Danish artist began his studies at the institution at only 14 years old. In 1870, at the age of 19, Kroyer completed his degree, and his participation in the Academy also awarded him a scholarship and a gold medal three years later.
Kroyer's exhibition debut was in 1871. The event happened at the Charlottenborg Palace, a venue that was part of the Academy and a place he exhibited throughout his life. The artwork that was part of the show was a portrait of a friend of his, the painter Frans Schwartz.
In 1874, Kroyer sold his first painting to Heinrich Hirschsprung, who became his patron for most of his career. Hirschsprung purchased four watercolors from the artist, and they maintained a lifelong relationship. Heinrich, a Danish tobacco industrialist, was a notable art collector, and his collection later became the Hirschsprung Museum in Copenhagen.
From 1877 to 1881, he traveled extensively throughout Europe with the intent to develop his skills, study art, and meet artists. During these four years, he spent more time in Paris, where he would study under Leon Bonnat. Soon, he became influenced by the Impressionist style, with artists such as Alfred Sisley, Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Edgar Degas. Kroyer was greatly interested in foreign cultures and artists, drawing inspiration from them. His early trips were made possible thanks to Hirschsprung's financial support.
Upon his return to Denmark in 1882, Kroyer spent a long time in the city of Skagen, a modest fisher village in northern Denmark. It then became an art colony, having Peder as its leader. In the village, he produced many paintings depicting the day-to-day life of the community. This recluse group developed into an artistic and literary scene in Skagen. Other artists who made up the colony were Georg Brandes, Holger Drachmann, Henrik Pontoppidan, as well as artists Anna Ancher and Michael Ancher.
They didn't only work but also maintained a rather bohemian lifestyle, indulging in parties. Possibly on one of these occasions, a girl from the native community got pregnant with Kroyer. He would then leave the island for Paris.
In 1888, during his time spent in the capital of the arts, Kroyer ran into fellow artist Marie Mathilde Triepcke, whom he met back in Copenhagen. Following a troubled romance, they married in 1889. Marie was 16 years younger than the painter and was described as being immensely beautiful. From this point, Marie would often appear in Kroyer's paintings. The couple had one daughter, Vibeke.
Marie Triepcke was a fierce artist herself. She started an art studio for women, something that at the time was prohibited in Denmark. During her time spent in Paris, a place that was more open to women exercising the artistic function, Tripecke was studying under Puvis de Chavanne, who was regarded as a Symbolist and was majorly influenced by how Modernists painters broke away from academic norms.
Even though Marie was portrayed in many of Kroyer's pictures, their relation to each other's art was troubled. For instance, the painter dismissed Marie's efforts on the education of women in art. Soon after their daughter was born, she stopped painting, feeling that she wasn't equal to her husband's work. The situation became worse as they had a couple of friends who would be the opposite of this competing and conflicting nature, Anna Ancher and Michael Ancher, who had a happy engagement and life.
Some authors propose that the health problems that Kroyer faced in the last part of his life were due to family history. The artist's mother was a patient in a mental institution, and he was born during her time there. His father is unknown, both facts that make it hard to trace back Kroyer's origins. His maternal aunt and later his daughter suffered from clinical depression.
In the 1890s, symptoms of depression started to manifest. In 1886, Kroyer was interned for six weeks in a sanitarium in the Pyrenees. The reason was persistent ulcers. Two years later, he was diagnosed with syphilis, a disease that affected 20% of the Parisian population. In 1895, after Vibeke was born, Marie too suffered from depression, having a difficult birth. This, along with Kroyer's critical behavior towards her work, was enough for them to grow apart. Circa 1900, the couple didn't travel together anymore, and the artist began attending a mental institution in March, where he stayed for seven months.
Kroyer started to go blind. Some mental health institutions registered "melancholy" cases in 1903 and episodes of violence in 1906. Marie, who was already distant from Kroyer for years, began a relationship with a Swedish composer and officially asked for a divorce. He only granted it after Marie gave birth to a child from the new relationship in 1905.
Peder Severin Kroyer died at 58 years old in the city of Skagen.
Peder Severin Kroyer's artworks are divided, roughly, into 4 phases. The first one is mostly indebted to his formation at the Academy. They mainly stemmed from what was understood at the time as Naturalism. His most famous work, though, is what became known as Realism. In his case, it still preserved an almost photographic-like quality for the depiction of bodies but then incorporated a more gestural brushwork and saturated use of the color.
As they are called, the Blue Paintings feature a sophisticated palette and were mostly done at Skagen. Examples of these paintings are Summer Evening on the Skagen Southern Beach with Anna Ancher and Marie Kroyer, Summer evening at the South Beach Skagen, and Summer Evening at Skagen the Artists Wife with a Dog on the Beach. In these works, the figure is still rendered with dexterity, but the landscape gets a renewed and complexified color, done with the utmost detail. What would be considered the background concerning the figure is rendered expressively, in an atmospheric way, with lyric and a powerful impact