Exhibition: Albert Anker. Reading Girls (22.3.–21.7.2024)

Exhibition: Albert Anker. Reading Girls (22.3.–21.7.2024)

Between 22 March and 21 July 2024, the Kunstmuseum Bern is putting a unique focus on Albert Anker in the context of its collection. At the centre of Albert Anker. Reading Girls are Anker’s efforts in favour of the education of girls. Not only did he advocate for children’s right to an education as a politician, but as a painter often represented girls and young women reading and writing.

Albert Anker. Cécile Anker, 28 September 1886
Albert Anker. Cécile Anker, 28 September 1886
Blue faience paint on paper. 16,9 x 23,3 cm. Centre Albert Anker, Ins
Photo: © Kunstmuseum Bern

Albert Anker (1831–1910) is one of the best-known Swiss artists, and is loved for his detailed, idealising representations of traditional peasant communities. Aside from his work as an artist he also held official posts in the municipality and the canton. As a citizen of the Ins farming community he was active in school policy until well into old age, and dealt with educational matters such as the foundation of the local secondary school in 1896. The exhibition of his works in the Kunstmuseum Bern locates the motif of the reading girl within Anker’s vision of the world and recognizes in his work a contribution to the emancipation of women in Switzerland.

Albert Anker. Exam at the Village School, 1862
Albert Anker. Exam at the Village School, 1862
Oil on canvas. 103 x 175 cm. Kunstmuseum Bern, Staat Bern
Photo: © Kunstmuseum Bern

The presentation is based on the Kunstmuseum Bern’s own collection holdings, and shows them in a new light. The holdings are complemented by selective loans from museums and private collections. The concentrated exhibition brings together 25 paintings, watercolours and drawings and emphasises the significance that the motif of reading girls held in Anker’s thought and work.

Small manifestos for equal opportunities
In both Anker’s time and our own, reading girls are a sign that society invests in the education of women. During Anker’s time as an artist and a politician in Bern in the 19th century, girls’ access to education could not be taken for granted. It was only after the total revision of the Swiss constitution in 1874 that compulsory education – for both boys and girls – was imposed across the whole country.

In his capacities as a politician, Anker spoke up for children’s right to education and campaigned, for example, for the introduction of a kindergarten and a secondary school in Ins. As an artist, too, he picked up the theme of education and represented it with images of children on the way to school, in class and with many depictions of reading girls. Against the backdrop of his commitment to educational policy, these latter works look like little manifestos for equal opportunities.

Reading girls
Among Anker’s many depictions of village life in Ins, his portraits of children have a quiet and impressive power. The girls and young women – always portrayed as individuals – are immersed completely naturally in their reading and writing. One prime example of this is the watercolour Cécile Anker in blue faience, a portrait of Anker’s youngest daughter reading.

Reading fires the imagination, it opens up access to knowledge and helps us to train our own thought. This means that Anker’s representations are not only genre-style portraits of children, but young girls at the start of an intellectual emancipation that the artist desired for all Swiss citizens, male and female.

The occasion for the focus on Albert Anker in the presentation of the Kunstmuseum Bern’s collection is the opening of the Centre Albert Anker in Ins in the early summer of 2024.

The opening of the exhibition will take place on Thursday, 21 March 2024, from 6 pm. Admission to the exhibition is free on this evening.

Kathleen Bühler

Assistant Curator
Anne-Christine Strobel

With the support of
Kanton Bern, Pierre Kottelat, Susanne and Franz Portmann



Born on 1 April in Ins, the second of three children of the vet Samuel Anker and Marianne Elisabeth Gatschet. Attends schools in Neuchâtel.

Takes private drawing lessons with Louis Wallinger (1819–1886). 1847 death of his brother Rudolf and his mother.

Grammar school in Bern. University entry qualification. Begins to study Theology at Bern University. First trip to Paris in September 1851.

June 1852 death of his sister Luise. Continues studying Theology at the University of Halle in Germany. In the autumn of 1854 he moves to Paris, where he becomes a pupil of the Waadtland classicist Charles Gleyre (1806– 1874).

Attends the Ecole Impériale et Spéciale des Beaux-Arts.

Ab 1856
Takes part in rotating art exhibitions of the Swiss Art Association.

Takes part in the Paris Salon.

Death of his father. From now on Anker regularly spends the summer in Ins and winter in Paris.

First trip to Italy, with his friend François Ehrmann.

Marries Anna Ruefli (1835–1917) from Biel. They have six children: 1865 Louise / 1867 Rudolf (d. 1869) / 1870 Emil (d. 1871) / 1872 Marie / 1874 Moritz / 1877 Cécile.

Anker wins a Gold Medal at the Paris Salon.

Member of the Great Council of the Canton of Bern, advocates for the construction of Bern Art Museum.

Appointed Knight of the Legion of Honour.

Is elected to the Federal Art Commission along with Frank Buchser, Arnold Böcklin, François Bocion and others.

Abandons his residence Paris. Begins work on the illustrations for the Gotthelf edition, repeated trips to Emmental.

Member of the Federal Commission of the Gottfried Keller Foundation.

1900 Honorary doctorate at Bern University.

Suffers a stroke in late September. Impairment of his right hand. Largely abandons oil painting.

1910 Anker dies on 16 July in Ins.



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