Monday 22 July 2013

Vilhelm Hammershoi

 I love Vilhelm Hammershoi's paintings, so I was very pleased to have the opportunity  to see more of his work in the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen.
Hammershoi is known for his poetic, low-key portraits and interiors. His wife figures in many of his interiors, often depicted from behind. A lonely, isolated figure in an empty parlour, people without any contact with each other, a city with no trace of human life, landscapes stripped of any romantic leanings - these are the themes of his paintings. All his life Hammershoi devoted himself to this limited number of themes, mainly painting interiors from his home, monumental buildings in Copenhagen, landscapes outside the city, and portraits of his immediate family and his friends.
His work is infused with atmosphere, often oppressive. Behind the calm, static exterior lurks an indefinable and ominous element. The colour palette is limited, dominated entirely by greys, yet encompassing a wealth of nuances. Light and air play major roles in the images, taking on an almost physical tactility even as material objects are dissolved and everything takes on an ethereal aspect.
His tableaux of figures turned away from the viewer project an air of slight tension and mystery and these are his best, I think. In that respect this exhibition in Copenhagen was disappointing as the number of those particular themes was limited, unlike the exhibition of his work in the Royal Academy in London in 2008 which I enjoyed immensely. Still good to see more of his paintings though

Self-Portrait, The Cottage Spurveskjul, 1911

Interior, The Old Jamb Stove, 1888

Interior in Strandgade, Sunlight on the Floor, 1901

Evening in the Drawing Room, the Artist's Mother and Wife, 1891

Interior. Artificial Light, 1909

Hammershoi's favourite motif was a sparsely furnished room where gentle, splendidly depicted daylight falls upon the walls, doors and floor, and where a single woman is occupied by her chores, isolated from the world. Here, however, he made an exception: the scene is a dark interior at night, lit only by two candles. There are no people in the room and no logical explanation for the arrangement of the furniture: he has suspended their usual function, i.e. to provide a setting for human interaction. This exacerbates the strong sense of absence that Hammershoi often conjures up in his paintings. He painted an oval shaped frame as if the scene is watched through a mirror. Perhaps it was intended as a reference to the traditional notion of art mirroring reality.

A Room in the Artist's Home in Strandgade with the Artist's Wife, 1902

St Peter's Church, 1906

The Old Christiansborg Palace, Late Autumn, 1890-92

From a Deerpark near Copenhagen, 1901

Tree Trunks, Arresodal, Frederiksvaerk, 1904

Seated Female Nude, 1898

Portrait of Ida Ilsted, Later the Artist's Wife, 1890

Ida Hammershoi, the Artist's Wife, with a Teacup, 1907

Female Model, 1909-10

Amalienborg Square, 1896

Artemis, 1893-94.


  1. Thanks for posting these pictures. I missed out on them as we didn't visit the Statens Museum for Kunst while we wwere in Copenhagen last year. I did catch one of his paintings in the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin a couple of weeks ago, though

    1. Wonderful paintings - so evocative. Even though I saw the Royal Academy of Arts exhibition 4 years ago, I still think about it a lot.

      There's an awful lot in the Staatens Museum for Kunst, we spent a whole morning there, but had to limit ourselves to Hammershoi, Impressionists and 20th century art - so much to see there.