A Hammershoi for the Boijmans van Beuningen Museum

Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916)
The Balcony Room at Spurveskjul, 1911
Oil on canvas - 43.2 x 53.3 cm
Rotterdam, Boijmans van Beuningen Museum
Photo : Daxer & Marschall

25/3/14 - Acquisition - Rotterdam, Boijmans van Beuningen Museum - The Boijmans van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam recently acquired at TEFAF, an oil on canvas by Vilhelm Hammershoi, a major Danish painter of the second half of the 19th century, from the Daxer & Marschall gallery. After remaining in the artist’s family until 1918, it then joined a private collection where it stayed until today. Entitled The Balcony Room at ’Spurveskjul’, it is characteristic of his work, full of many interior scenes which are sparsely furnished and void of human figures. While most depict his apartment on Strangade 30 in Copenhaguen, (see news item of 25/10/12), here we see the country house he rented along with his wife Ida during the summer of 1911 in Spurveskjul, north of the Danish capital. The residence had been built in the early 19th century for, and according to, Nicolai Abildgaard, a painter who had Runge and Friedrich as his students.
The room represented shows no furniture or other decoration except for a curtain on the window at the back. Hammershoi focuses on the space itself, the lines composing it and the light which serves to structure it using muted shades of grey, beige and white. The window is closed while one side of the French window, leading perhaps to the balcony, is wide open. The painting in no way reveals the exterior. The inside of this room is its only subject. As pointed out in the entry provided by the sale catalogue, the large and blurred strokes, characteristic of the artist’s last period, evoke contemporary pointillist experiments. Furthermore, it goes on to say that this work appears to be a preparatory study for a larger painting residing at the Statens Museum in Copenhaguen, the Self-Portrait, Spurveskjul, also produced in 1911. The silhouette of the profile, three-quarter head, a brush in his hand, stands out against a background which is indeed very similar except for one detail, the doorhandle missing from the first. Here again, the exterior does not contribute to the composition, with the painter even turning his back to the light.

While this spatial composition is obviously an allusion to Vermeer, and more generally to 17th century Dutch painting, in Hammershoi this empty space goes even further, offering no narrative, eliminating any trace of the everyday, ignoring the intimate. The silent room is an invitation to introspection, rather than contemplation, arousing anxiety instead of meditative calm, taking on a dramatic dimension which might recall Henrik Ibsen’s works, as suggested in the exhibition Vilhelm Hammershoi : the Poetry of Silence at the Royal Academy of London in 2008 or even those of Ingmar Bergman.

Version française

Julie Demarle, mardi 25 mars 2014

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