A century ago, Vilhelm Hammershøi was a giant in the Scandinavian art world, his paintings avidly collected by connoisseurs and museums. It was the era of the Impressionists, yet, as Kasper Monrad, senior research curator at the National Gallery of Denmark (SMK) explains, his palette was radically different. “He used very few colours—grey, white and black—but many hues of these colours. In some paintings we’ve traced 20 hues of white. There are very few painters working in the same way as he did,” Monrad says.
“He has no peers in modern Danish art capable of matching him in terms of narrative restraint, spatial soberness and sophistication of colour,” states Mikkel Bogh, director of SMK. However, after his death from cancer in 1916 his works were soon forgotten—at least, outside Denmark.
Yet in recent decades, the artist, and his restrained, intimate style, are once again attracting throngs of devoted admirers. “After a century of abstract art,” says Monrad, “I think a lot of people appreciate that the pictures have subjects you can relate to.”
....Hammershøi was always a lone wolf. In 1885, his art teacher said, “I have a pupil who paints most oddly. I do not understand him, but believe he is going to be important and do not try to influence him.” He limited his subject matter to interiors, portraits of his family and close friends, townscapes and landscapes. By stripping the scenes of any unnecessary details he abolished any sense of narrative from his work....
Amalienborg Palace Square, Copenhagen (1896), like so many cityscapes, is devoid of people. The sky is grey and dense.