National Gallery of Denmark opens Hammershoi and Europe exhibition

The National Gallery of Denmark presents Hammershoi and Europe an exhibition on view 4 February – 20 May 2012.

Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864 – 1916), Interior from Strandgade with Sunlight on the Floor, 1901. Oil on canvas, 46,5 x 52 cm. National Gallery of Denmark.

Loneliness, intimacy, and alienation. With his timeless and universal subject matter and his unmistakable, carefully restricted palette Vilhelm Hammershøi is one of the most important and distinctive figures in the history of Danish art. His reputation reaches farther beyond his native soil than that of any other Danish painter, and over the course of the last 15 years a number of retrospective exhibitions in Europe, USA, and Japan has firmly established Hammershøi’s position as the equal of the other main artists from the period.

Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916) is most frequently portrayed as a singular figure within Danish art. His narrowly confined circle of motifs – particularly his characteristic interiors, many of which are devoid of people – has gradually conjured up an image of an artist who lived a reclusive existence, stubbornly celebrating the small, intimate things in art as well as in life. At the same time he is often regarded as an artist who maintained a certain distance to his own time and was neither interested in nor inspired by his contemporaries. However, Hammershøi’s life and work most certainly testify to an artist who was based in his own era. He entered the art scene at a time when the new and the old met and collided, and right from the outset he revolted against the prevalent stylistic norms issued by the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. He soon began to follow his own path, dragging traditional motifs into the modern world, and on his extensive travels abroad he became familiar with the new artistic movements emerging in Europe.

The exhibition at the National Gallery of Denmark aims to re-evaluate Hammershøi by taking a dual-sided approach. It offers a comprehensive presentation of Hammershøi’s own art, including a selection of his most important works. And it boasts very significant loans from across the world that juxtapose his paintings with paintings by some of the pre-eminent European artists of the day, including Whistler, Carrière, Fantin-Latour, Gauguin, Seurat, Khnopff, Puvis de Chavannes, Munch, and Bonnard. The exhibition will not only shed light on any direct inspiration that may have taken place between these artists; it also points to how many artistic endeavours shared certain traits and affinities, thereby accentuating a number of obvious parallels between Hammershøi and several of his contemporaries, especially within the non-literary branch of the international Symbolist movement. Hammershøi was not alone in the world, and the exhibition aims to demonstrate that several other artists of the time took similar approaches to depicting phenomena, such as atmosphere and existence, rather than narratives.

A total of 90 works make up the exhibition, which opens by identifying the most prominent motifs and themes in Hammershøi’s art. These include his lonely, isolated figures, portraits of introspective characters, interiors, cityscapes devoid of people, and de-romanticised landscapes. Here, the exhibition focuses on the traits that are particularly distinctive of Hammerhøi’s art: the colour schemes, the brushwork, and the special atmosphere that permeates the paintings. The presentation then moves on to juxtapose Hammershøi’s paintings with works by fellow artists from the same era; the resulting overlaps and contrasts place the Danish artist within an international context. The exhibition presents a range of works in carefully arranged groups to accentuate stylistic and thematic correlations and affinities within the European art scene of the day.

Comprehensive archival and photographic materials about Hammershøi are featured prominently in the information supplied within the exhibition. The Gallery has also produced a film that relates the thoughts and concepts behind the exhibition, providing a visual flow that focuses on the associative links between various works. Prior to or after their visit, audiences can immerse themselves further in Hammershøi’s universe and story via a smartphone or iPod app and via the Gallery’s website at:

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