Lines and Colors art blog

Vilhelm Hammershøi

Vilhelm Hammershoi
If I were to look up “muted palette” in my mental art dictionary, the definition would be a painting by Vilhelm Hammershøi.

The Danish painter, active in the late 19th end early 20th centuries, was noted for his enigmatic, poetic interiors — sometimes empty, but frequently occupied by a lone figure.

This figure was often either that of his sister, Anna, or his wife, Ida. Both were portrayed in many of Hammershøi’s paintings as facing away from the viewer, adding to the mysterious quality of the compositions and giving them an emotional tone as muted as his palette.

Hammershøi also painted more straightforward portraits, as well as landscapes, but the power of his interiors was the centerpiece of his work. They can be interpreted as contemplative or melancholy, but they seem to carry forward a still moment in time, as exemplified by the Dutch interior painters he admired, like Vermeer and De Hooch.

Hammershøi was influential on Danish art and on other painters. I can’t help but see his figures facing away from the viewer in the work of Belgian Surrealist René Magritte, and his quiet interiors patterned with light from multi-paned windows in the interior watercolors of Andrew Wyeth.

There is currently an exhibition of Hammershøi’s paintings, titled “Painting Tranquility: Masterworks by Vilhelm Hammershøi from SMK —the National Gallery of Denmark” at Scandanavia House in New York, that runs until February 27, 2016.

WWD has an article about the show, as does Linea. The Guardian has an interesting feature from 2008 about a previous show, with a selection of Hammershøi’s paintings — along with photographs of his sister and wife, as well as the house interiors in which they were painted

There is a currently in print collection of his work, Hammershøi and Europe, though it doesn’t to my knowledge have any connection with the show. You may also find additional, out of print titles that can be acquired used.


8 responses to “Vilhelm Hammershøi”

  1. One of my all time favorites!

  2. Intriguing work. One can’t help but also wonder at the psychological implications of all those doors opening into other rooms giving you the barest glimpses of what is there and the lone open windows in seas of windows without really showing what is beyond them except in occasional vague, misty descriptions.

    Doors opening into other rooms with doors opening into other rooms and sometimes with a window at the very end. Very mysterious indeed!

    1. Those are pretty directly inspired by Baroque Dutch paintings of domestic interiors, particularly the “keyhole paintings” of Pieter de Hooch (so called because of the view within a view effect). I agree in finding the effect fascinating in both cases. The emotional feeling is quite different.

  3. I started out admiring him, then feeling sorry for him, and now I’m even more convinced that he is someone special. It seems I’m not alone. In June this year one of his interiors with Ida was sold at Sotheby’s for a world record price of £340,000.
    ~ Michael Palin, London, 2 July, 2005

    Lyl, my daughter, would agree that ‘less is more’.

  4. Pat Wafer Avatar

    Very interesting painter. Last winter I came across Michael’s Palin’s very well done documentary about the painter on You Tube.

    1. Thanks. Pat. I’ve seen reference to the Palin documentary, but haven’t had the chance to watch it yet.

    signed with initials VH lower right
    57 by 49cm., 22½ by 19¼in.