Vilhelm Hammershoi Works for Sotheby’s Scandinavian Art Sale

. April 15, 2009

Sotheby’s has announced that its annual sale of Scandinavian Art in London on Wednesday, June 3, 2009 will be led by five important works by the Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916). The group of three intimate portrait works and two landscapes includes three paintings that featured in the well-received and critically acclaimed exhibition Vilhelm Hammershøi: The Poetry of Silence, which was staged at the Royal Academy in London during the summer of 2008 and then travelled to the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo that autumn. All five works show many of the artist’s signature elements.

Commenting on the sale of the five paintings, Claude Piening, Senior Director in Sotheby’s European Paintings Department, said: “The recent Hammershøi exhibition at London’s Royal Academy and Tokyo’s Museum of Western Art has seen Vilhelm Hammershøi’s profile on the international stage gather huge momentum. Hammershøi’s paintings are filled with a dark, haunting loneliness with – in many cases – figures that stare away in quiet, contemplative detachment. The selection that we are offering in our June sale typifies this style and includes many signature elements of the Danish artist’s work. It is the strongest group of works by the artist that we have offered at Sotheby’s for several years and it is rare to have so many pictures that relate to his family.”

Double Portrait of the Artist and his Wife, Seen Through a Mirror and Portrait of the Artist’s Mother are the two most valuable works of the group, both having estimates of £80,000–120,000. The double portrait of Hammershøi and his wife, Ida, was painted in 1911 at Spurveskjul, the county house in Lyngby (just north of Copenhagen) that was his summer residence that year. Though Hammershøi traditionally spent his summers painting landscapes, Spurveskjul provided an ideal environment and subject for him to paint. The great hall, for example, provided a different sense of space and light than the artist was used to in his Copenhagen apartments. In the portrait, Hammershøi captures himself looking in a mirror in the shadows of a cool, dark room in an almost detached and melancholic manner, while his wife is connected to the light of the world outside the room. The painting was acquired directly from Hammershøi by his sister–in law, who is the grandmother of the present owner. It therefore comes to the market with exemplary provenance.

Painted in 1886, Portrait of the Artist’s Mother (Kunstnerens Moder Frederikke Hammershøi) is one of two similar portraits Hammershøi produced of his mother Frederikke that year. Hammershøi did not accept portrait commissions and only painted those that he knew personally so his portraits have an emotional resonance. Never before offered at auction, the work is distinguished by its impeccable provenance, having been acquired by the family of the present owner from its first owner, Alfred Bramsen (1851-1932), the Copenhagen dentist who was Hammershøi’s foremost champion and author of the first comprehensive catalogue of his work. Composed in muted, black and grey tones – a characteristic of so many of the artist’s works – the sitter’s face, hands and kerchief stand out in clarity against the dark background while the subject stares into the distance seemingly detached from the artist. The work clearly takes its cue from the American painter James McNeil Whistler’s famous Arrangement in Grey and Black: The Artist’s Mother, which Hammershøi admired.

The third portrait is a further depiction of his wife and is entitled Portrait of Ida (Portræt af Ida). This oil is estimated at £25,000-35,000 and it joined the Tokyo leg of the recent exhibition. In 1890 Hammershøi executed at least five likenesses of his then wife-to-be and that on offer most closely relates to a drawing of her that today hangs in Stockholm’s National Museum.

Finally, the two landscapes on offer – both of which featured in the recent retrospective exhibition in London and Tokyo – are entitled Landscape with Farm and Corner of a Farm. Landscape with Farm, dating from 1883 and estimated at £40,000-60,000, captures farm houses and barns which the artist likely saw on his summer trips to Sjælland and it includes many of the artist’s signature elements, the muted palette and the limited and abstract composition. Estimated at 20,000-30,000, Corner of a Farm was also painted in 1883.

Vilhelm Hammershøi
Vilhelm Hammershøi was born in 1864 in Copenhagen – the city in which he would remain for most of his career. He started painting at an early age and was studying at the Royal Academy of Art in Copenhagen by his mid teens. Many of his most famous works were painted in the Copenhagen flats, notably Strandgade 30, he shared with his wife, and which also served as his studios, the plain interiors of which would become immortalised by the tonal greys, blacks and muddy whites of the many works Hammershøi set there. He also traveled both within Denmark and throughout Europe and it is from these trips that he drew inspiration for the interiors, landscapes and views. Hammershøi died in 1916 aged only 52, he was largely unappreciated immediately after his death but has gained ever increasing popularity. His work has been the subject of several retrospectives in Denmark and abroad, most recently Vilhelm Hammershøi: The Poetry of Silence, held at the Royal Academy and the Museum of Western Art, Tokyo in 2008.

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