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The Slumbering Damsel – Dan Les Bois by Albert Anker

Article by Anders E. Johnson

Completed in 1865, the painting, Dan Les Bois, by the celebrated Swiss artist, Albert Anker, is a striking example of the serene naturalness found within the realism art movement.

The Slumbering Damsel - Dan Les Bois by Albert Anker

Dan Les Bois by Albert Anker (1831-1910)
1865

In realism, art is not about adding sparkle, shine, glimmer, or glamour; but rather it labors to depict the true mundane, imperfect world while leaving out any extraordinary elements. Painter Albert Anker is remembered and forever immortalized in Swiss society, for his depiction of realistic 19th century Swiss village life which is boldly brush- stroked in his masterpiece Dan Les Bois (In the Woods).

At first glance, the causal onlooker beholds a young village girl lying down for a nap on the forest floor. Her head delicately rests upon a soft mossy root of a large oak tree. Her right hand lightly grasps a branch tied within a bundle of gathered sticks. She is clad in ragged clothes and is lacking footwear. Anker used neutral earth tones with the exception of the eye-catching robin egg blue apron the slumbering peasant girl is wearing round her waist. The lying girl and fagot of branches are almost situated parallel to one another. The entire composition forms a right triangular shape that gracefully draws our eyes from her exposed callous toes, over to her well-worked hand, on upwards to her angelically sleeping face, and then downwards, lastly, to her left hand lying still upon a cottony bed of green moss.

European village life in the 19th century was backbreaking. An everyday task young folk were expected of doing included what we see this dear dreamer having finished: collecting wood and kindling for the fire. Unlike most places today, a warm and cosy evening, or even hot food, for that matter, demanded the laborious chore of wandering throughout the forest to find and gather a passel of dead, dry branches or small sticks.

Our dear young dreamer has been transported away by the sands of deep slumber into a bedazzling realm seen only with closed eyes. We can only imagine what she is dreaming of. Perhaps to arrive home to her parents and show them proudly, and with youthful dignity, what her arduous day’s work has borne. On the other hand, perhaps her hard life presses on her heart to desire an easier life without much toil. Her mind frolics gaily to and fro in a valley of wildflowers, her heart flying upon small butterflies’ wings and warmed by a golden summer sun amidst a light blue sky with ethereal cottony clouds.

Albrecht Anker faithfully paints only the possibilities of plain, face-to-face life. He gives us the honor to add our own magic touch of imagination to interpret and shine light onto the unseen elements within this picture. This, dear reader, is the beauty of the realism movement. It paints us a true picture of reality, and we must, as our young dreaming damsel, lay ourselves down near a moss-enveloped knoll and rest or heads against the knowledgeable tree of imagination to patch the holes in this drapery known as Dan Les Bois.

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