Albert Samuel Anker is one of the most popular 19th century Swiss painters, well renowned for his popular paintings depicting Swiss village life. Anker was born April 1, 1831 in Ins, Switzerland to a veterinarian father, and attended school in Neuchâtel where he would take drawing lessons and begin his artistic journey. While in school, Anker would meet Auguste Bachelin who would also grow into a fellow artist. Going on to attend university for theology in both Bern and Halle, Germany, Anker was inspired by the abundance of great art collections and abandoned his theological studies to pursue a career in art.
Anker moved to Paris in 1855 to attend the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts and bolster his professional art career, going as far as installing a painting studio in his parents attic and participating in art exhibitions in both Paris and Switzerland. In 1864, Anker married Anna Rüfli with whom he had six children, four of whom would grow to adulthood. While two of Anker’s children would die young, his four surviving children appeared in his paintings.
Anker’s Christian faith and belief in Swiss democracy heavily influenced his painting style, tone, and choice of topics. During his studies Anker produced a series of both biblically and historically inspired paintings, featuring characters such as famed Protestant Reformation theologists John Calvin and Martin Luther. After finishing his studies, Anker would move back to his hometown of Ins, Switzerland, where he would develop his recognisable meticulous painting style, portraying rural Swiss communities and the lifestyles of the people who lived there. Unlike his contemporaries of the time, Anker did not address, criticise, or idolise the social conditions of rural communities or people, instead portraying his subjects with an unpretentious nature that appealed to both the public and critics. Alongside his paintings documenting Swiss rural life, Anker also painted still-lives, many of which are considered some of his best works. While Anker was influenced by his Christian faith, he did not include overt Christian ideology in his paintings, but instead chose to depict a ideological sense of realism and a stable world order.
Anker often traveled for his artistic career, exploring European countries for inspiration and spending winters in Paris and devoting summers in Ins to painting his rural subjects. Anker stopped travelling consistently in 1891, when he retired permanently to Ins and began to work on illustrating the works of the Swiss novelist, Jeremias Gotthelf. While Anker did make a living from his own inspired works, he also supported his family through commissioned pieces such as watercolors, drawings, and over 500 faience plates for the 19th-century French potter, Theodore Deck.
Anker would live his adult life as a successful painter, receiving many accolades including the gold medal at the Paris Salon for Schlafendes Mädchen im Walde in 1866, the title of knight of the Légion d'honneur in 1878, and being a member of the Grand Council of Bern from 1870-74, where he would advocate for a museum of fine art in the city. Anker acted as a member of the Swiss Federal Art Commission for many years, as well as receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of Bern in 1900.
In 1901 Anker would suffer a stroke that would reduce his ability to work. Anker would pass away in 1910, at the age of 79 and in his home at Ins.
While Anker was popular during his lifetime, the first exposition dedicated to him would not occur until after his death in 1910, held at the Musée d'art et d'histoire in Neuchâtel. Ankers legacy lives on, with many of his works being featured on Swiss postage stamps and other media. His home and studio in Ins has been preserved by the Albert Anker Foundation, allowing fans access to see how the painter worked and lived.