Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916) was the last great painter in Danish nineteenth-century art. He painted against a background of modern experience, but his painting never broke with the basic rules that had defined the point of departure for the pictures of the Danish Golden Age. His work therefore has a distinctive, striking character which expresses both his independent artistic temperament and a longing for the Golden Age whose foundations had been reduced to ruins.
A typical figure in Hammershøi’s work is the woman with her back to us. She stands unmoving as a pillar, not engaged in any action but silently absorbed in her own thoughts. She is like the furniture – and neither the woman nor the furniture demonstrates or carries any real meaning. All the same it is as if an invisible meaning is present. The elements of the picture might suggest an allegory of love and art: not a living, fruitful exchange but an inaccessible tableau where the woman and the objects, encapsulated like objects, first and foremost become an image of melancholy longing.
To learn more, watch Michael Palin’s BBC documentary on Hammershøi:
Text and information courtesy Ordupgaard Museum