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.