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About Vilhelm Hammershoi - Danish Artist

Katherine has researched and written about many British, European and Japanese Artists - both past and present

An introduction to Vilhelm Hammershi (1864-1916)

Vilhelm Hammershoi is a Danish artist who developed a very distinctive style of painting.

This site provides links to information on the internet and in books about Vilhelm Hammershoi including links to where you can see images and read about his work

[Note: His surname contains the letter (a slashed 'o') before the last letter - but this causes problems in software which does not recognise the Danish language]

Dust Motes Dancing in the Sunbeams (1900) by Vilhelm Hammerschoi | Oil on canvas | Ordrupgaard Museum, Charlottenlund, Denmark

Dust Motes Dancing in the Sunbeams (1900) by Vilhelm Hammerschoi | Oil on canvas | Ordrupgaard Museum, Charlottenlund, Denmark

Photo of Vilhelm Hammerschoi

Photo of Vilhelm Hammerschoi

Vilhelm Hammershi - a life

Vilhelm Hammershi (May 15, 1864 - February 13, 1916) was a nineteenth century Danish painter.

He painted low-key portraits and interiors and his paintings have been characterised as 'poetic'

Biography

Hammershi was born in Copenhagen. His parents were Christian Hammershoi and his wife, Frederikke (ne Rentzmann). Hammershi married Ida Ilsted in 1891. She is the woman frequently featured in his paintings with her back to the painter. His sister Anna features as a model in his early paintings. She and he were enthusiastic about having their photographs taken.

In terms of temperament he has been characterised as shy and quiet. Emil Nolde and Rainer Maria Rilke, both remarked on his retiring manner and reluctance to talk.

Education

His art education started at the age of eight when he started to study drawing Neils Christian Kierkegaard and Holger Grnvold, as well as painting with Vilhelm Kyhn. Subsequently his art education was further developed through studies with Frederik Vermehren and others at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. From 1883 to 1885, he studied with Peder Severin Kryer at the Independent Study Schools,

Artistic career

Hammershi worked mainly in his native city of Copenhagen where he mainly painted portraits and interiors. He is most well known and respected for his paintings of interiors. These were often painted in his homes in Copenhagen at

  • Strandgade 30 (where he lived with his wife from 1898 to 1909, and
  • Strandgade 25 (where they lived from 1913 to 1916).
Interior with the Artist's Easel (1910) by Vilhelm Hammershøi | Oil, on canvas, 84 x 69 cm. | National Gallery of Denmark

Interior with the Artist's Easel (1910) by Vilhelm Hammershøi | Oil, on canvas, 84 x 69 cm. | National Gallery of Denmark

Interiors are his subject

His interiors feature the everyday. Nothing much happens. They have been described by some as bland. The overall impression of his style is one of coolness, restraint, and quietude.

People find them very peaceful. Others consider them to be melancholic.

Hammershoi's wife figures in many of these interiors, often depicted from behind. Ida is also the model in many similar works by her brother, Peter Ilsted. Peter and Vilhelm were lifelong friends, business partners, and colleagues.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art held an exhibition of their collective works in 2001, and there was an exhibition of his works in 2008 at the Royal Academy, London.

Hammershøi

The Tall Windows 1913 (De hje vinduer) by Vilhelm Hammershi | Oil on canvas | Ordrupgaard Museum, Charlottenlund, Denmark

The Tall Windows 1913 (De hje vinduer) by Vilhelm Hammershi | Oil on canvas | Ordrupgaard Museum, Charlottenlund, Denmark

He also painted portraits and landscapes

In terms of portraits, his debut as an artist came at the Charlottenborg Exhibition in the spring of 1885 with Portrait of a Young Girl. This was a portrait of his sister Anna. Pierre Auguste Renoir is reported to have admired this painting.

Hammershoi travelled within Europe and visited London. London at the time had a polluted atmosphere due to coal smoke and was prone to having the foggy atmosphere much liked by Monet. Both his exteriors of grand buildings in Copenhagen and in London (he painted two exteriors of the British Museum between 1905 and 1906) and his landscapes lack figures.

He painted landscapes and studies of architecture and buildings - such as the British Museum. His landscapes of the countryside surrounding Copenhagen typically featured rolling hills, stands of trees, and farm houses.

Technique and Critique

Technique

Hammershoi's paintings lack bright colours. He employed a limited palette and focused on the colour of light found in very subtle and muted tones. Many may think of his work as grey but it in fact more of an exercise in coloured greys rather than any monochromatic version.

My personal view is that it is "the face" rather than the figure which is absent from paintings outside the home.

After a trip to Paris, his work became overly detailed. According to art critic Souren Melikian, his "painterly skill remained but the magic was lost."

Critical acclaim

Hammershi early works, with their simplicity and recording of the "banality of everyday life," enjoyed critical acclaim. He was sought out by artists and literary figures of the time

Hammershi is now one of the most well-known artists in Scandinavia. Comprehensive retrospectives of his work have been organized by the Muse d'Orsay in Paris and the Guggenheim Museum in New York. In 2008, the Royal Academy of Arts in London hosted the first major exhibition in Britain of Hammershi's work, Vilhelm Hammershi: The Poetry of Silence.

Commemoration

In 1997, Denmark issued a postage stamp in his honor. A BBC television documentary, Michael Palin and the Mystery of Hammershoi, was aired in 2005.

text based on Wikipedia article on Vilhelm Hammershi and a number of other articles

Articles about the life of Vilhelm Hammershoi

The Four Rooms (1914) by Vilhelm Hammerschoi | oil on canvas, 85 × 70.5 cm (33.5 × 27.8 in) | Ordrupgaard, Copenhagen

The Four Rooms (1914) by Vilhelm Hammerschoi | oil on canvas, 85 × 70.5 cm (33.5 × 27.8 in) | Ordrupgaard, Copenhagen

Hammershi and Europe - by Kasper Monrad

A comprehensive study of the great Danish painter by the Chief Curator at the Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen. This monograph places Hammershi within the context of his European contemporaries. This generously illustrated volume examines Hammershi's work as a whole and in relation to the artists of his generation.

Amazon reviews: 5.0 out of 5 stars (2 customer reviews) | Like (7)

VIDEO: Vilhelm Hammershi - on YouTube

Exhibitions of paintings by Vilhelm Hammershoi

Links to websites relating to exhibitionsof paintings by Vilhelm Hammershoi

The Royal Academy published a number of articles during the course of the 2008 exhibition.

Vilhelm Hammershi [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Images of Vilhelm Hammershi - online galleries

There are not a lot of websites where you can find the images of Vilhelm Hammershi online

BOOKS: Vilhelm Hammershi - books on Amazon

There are very few books about Vilhelm Hammershoi - and, as a result, those volumes which are available can command tremendous prices

VIDEO: A fan appreciates Vilhelm Hammershi - on YouTube

BOOK: Danish Art - book on Amazon

Images by Vilhelm Hammershoi in Museums and Art Galleries

Museums and Art Galleries where you can see the paintings of Vilhelm Hammershi

Images by Vilhelm Hammershoi at Auction

Reviews of Vilhelm Hammershi

Articles about Vilhelm Hammershi and reviews of his art

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Comments and Feedback - Let me know what you think

Katherine Tyrrell (author) from London on October 01, 2008:

You can find a comment in the RA exhibition website For example:"Hammershøi revered Whistler, whom he tried – uharacteristically in vain – to visit in London in 1898 (Whistler was in Paris at the time). Many a Hammershøi could have been entitled, in Whistler style, Harmony in Grey and Black. But there is another point here: Hammershøi’s treatment of colour was a strategy of reduction – reducing its range to increase its intensity and controllability. And reduction, in all sorts of ways, is a distinctively modernist strategy – pithily encapsulated by the architect Mies van der Rohe’s slogan ‘less is more’."

anonymous on September 26, 2008:

I would like to know how Whislter inflenced Hammershoi's work.

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