Albert Anker Biography

(Swiss Painter and Illustrator Known for His Popular Depictions of Village Life)

Birthday: April 1, 1831 (Aries)

Born In: Ins, Switzerland

Albrecht Samuel Anker was a distinguished Swiss painter and illustrator whose paintings of enduring interest depicting 19th-century Swiss rural life led him to emerge as the national painter of Switzerland. A student of theology, Anker later attended the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts and switched to an artistic career after getting inspired by the great art collections in Germany. He thrived as the most popular genre painter of Switzerland with his signature theme which included depiction of everyday life of people in the picturesque villages of Switzerland presented in an unpretentious and simple manner. His works also include paintings with historical and biblical themes, paintings of social significance, still lifes and several portraits and illustrations. He also decorated hundreds of faience plates for noted 19th-century French potter Théodore Deck. He received a gold medal at the Paris Salon, an honorary doctorate from the University of Bern and was made a knight of the Légion d'honneur. The Albert Anker Foundation has preserved his studio in Ins as a museum while his work has found place in several Swiss postage stamps and have been incorporated by other media.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Albrecht Samuel Anker

Died At Age: 79


Spouse/Ex-: Anna Rüfli

father: Samuel Anker

mother: Marianne Elisabeth Gatschet

children: Cécile, Louise, Marie, Maurice

Born Country: Switzerland

Artists Illustrators

Died on: July 16, 1910

place of death: Ins, Switzerland

Notable Alumni: Martin Luther University Of Halle-Wittenberg, École Des Beaux-Arts, University Of Bern

More Facts

education: University Of Bern, École Des Beaux-Arts, Martin Luther University Of Halle-Wittenberg

Childhood & Early Life

Albrecht Samuel Anker was born on April 1, 1831, in Ins, Switzerland, as the second of three children of Samuel Anker, a veterinarian who at that time served as a member of the constituent assembly of the Canton of Bern.

Anker developed interest in art at the age of 11 after visiting an exhibition at the Societe des Amis des Arts, in Neuchatel. He studied in a school in Neuchâtel from 1845 to 1848, and took drawing lessons from Louis Wallinger along with Auguste Bachelin, who also went on to become an artist. When Anker was 16, he lost his mother and brother. He started using the name Albert in Neuchâtel as it was easier to pronounce for his French-speaking classmates.

In 1849, Anker enrolled at the Gymnasium Kirchenfeld in Bern and completed his graduation with the Matura in 1851. Thereafter he started studying theology in 1851 and went on to further his studies on the subject at the University of Halle in Germany. He lost his sister in 1852.

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While in Germany, Anker got the opportunity to see some great art collections which inspired him to choose an artistic career and in 1854 he succeeded in persuading his father to give him permission to do so.

In 1855, Anker went to Paris where he came under the tutelage of noted Swiss artist and teacher Charles Gleyre and attended the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts till 1860. He lost his father that year. The following year, he went to Northern Italy and studied the works of leading Italian painters like Titan and Corregio. While studying, he created several paintings including portraits with historical and biblical themes. These included portraits of Luther and Calvin.

Anker set up a studio in the attic of his parents' house and started taking part in different exhibitions in Switzerland and Paris. After coming back to Ins, Anker created paintings depicting regular life of people in the picturesque villages of Switzerland. This went on to become his signature theme. Anker depicted the 19th-century Swiss village life in a rather modest and simple way sans any glorification. Unlike his contemporaries like Daumier, Courbet or Millet, Anker refrained from displaying an overly critical point of view of social conditions in his works. The everyday scenes that he created with great skill and finesse and his subtle choices of colouring and lighting showcased his prowess as an artist and with time raised him to prominence as the most popular Swiss genre painter of the 19th century. His approach to art which includes shaping an idea in one's imagination and then making it accessible to the people has reflected in his work and the general accessibility of his paintings have led them to enjoy enduring popularity.

He had an affirmative and idealistic Christian world-view and although he created some works with social significance such as depicting scenes like usurers or charlatans visiting the village, he never imposed his ideology on his paintings. He also created over thirty still lifes depicting urban and rural table settings that remind one of the still life paintings of distinguished 18th-century French painter Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. Other notable works of Anker include creating hundreds of commissioned drawings and watercolours, most of which were portraits and illustrations. These included an edition of collected works of Swiss novelist Jeremias Gotthelf. In pursuit of making a steady income, Anker also decorated over five hundred faience plates for the famous 19th-century French potter Théodore Deck.

Anker regularly participated in the prestigious Paris Salon of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He received a gold medal at the Paris Salon in 1866 for his paintings Schreibunterricht (1865) and Schlafendes Mädchen im Walde (1865). Some of the other noted paintings of Anker include Das Schulexamen (1862), Kinderbegräbnis (1863), Boy at Table (1869) and Queen Bertha and the Spinners (1888).

He served as a member of the Grand Council of Bern from 1870 to 1874. During his tenure there, Anker advocated the construction of the Kunstmuseum Bern (Museum of Fine Arts Bern), which was established in 1879. Meanwhile, he was made a knight of the Légion d'honneur in 1878.

Anker stayed regularly in Paris during winters and often travelled to different European countries including Italy, France, Germany and Belgium. He served as a member of the Swiss Federal Art Commission from 1889 to 1893 and again from 1895 to 1898. He was conferred with an honorary doctorate by the University of Bern in 1900. Anker also served as a member of several international juries.

The Albert Anker Foundation, established in the memory of Anker, has preserved his studio in Ins as a museum. Many noted works of Anker has found place in Swiss postage stamps and also have been used by other media. One of the most noted admirers and collectors of Anker’s work is the Swiss industrialist and politician Christoph Blocher who served as a Member of the Swiss Federal Council and led the Federal Department of Justice and Police. Blocher published an apologetic essay on the painter.

Personal Life

Anker tied the knot with Anna Rufli in 1864. The couple had six children of whom two died at an early age. His four surviving children namely Louise, Maurice, Marie and Cécile appeared in some of his works.

Anker suffered from a stroke in September 1901 which caused partial paralysis in his right hand thus reducing his ability to work. He died in his Ins house on July 16, 1910, at the age of 79 years. A first exposition dedicated to him was held that year posthumously at the Musée d'art et d'histoire in Neuchâtel.

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