Vilhelm Hammershøi, Interior in Strandgade, Sunlight on the Floor, 1901. Oil on canvas, 18 1/3 x 20 1/2 in. (46.5 x 52 cm). Statens Museum for Kunst, smk.dk

NEW YORK, NY.- Painting Tranquility: Masterworks by Vilhelm Hammershøi from SMK – The National Gallery of Denmark, an exhibition of masterpieces by celebrated Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916), opens at Scandinavia House: The Nordic Center in America, in New York City, on October 17, 2015. The selection of 24 paintings examines the practice of an artist who defied tradition and conventional expectations with his enigmatic artworks, eventually earning recognition as one of Denmark’s greatest artists of the modern era. 


Vilhelm Hammershøi, The Buildings of the Asiatic Company, Seen from St. Annæ Street, Copenhagen, 1902. Oil on canvas, 57 5/8 x 55 1/3 in. (146.5 x 140.5 cm). Statens Museum for Kunst, smk.com.

Drawn from SMK’s extensive collection, Painting Tranquility features artworks from the main genres in which Hammershøi worked: monumental buildings and churches in Copenhagen, reduced landscapes, intimate portraits, and the quiet home interiors for which he earned the title “de stille stuers maler” (the painter of tranquil rooms). Though Hammershøi’s international popularity has grown rapidly in recent years, Painting Tranquility will be the first exhibition in New York exclusively dedicated to his work in over 15 years. 

The exhibition is curated by Dr. Kasper Monrad, chief curator at the Statens Museum for Kunst/National Gallery of Denmark (SMK) in Copenhagen and a leading expert on Danish and European painting of the 19th century. On view through February 27, 2016, the exhibition will be accompanied by a range of public programs for all ages and a new publication. 


Vilhelm Hammershøi, View of Jægersborg Allé. Gentofte, North of Copenhagen, 1892. Oil on canvas, 13 7/8 x 16 1/2 in. (35.3 x 41.8 cm). Statens Museum for Kunst, smk.com.

Edward P. Gallagher, president of the American-Scandinavian Foundation/Scandinavia House, said, “We are delighted to present this extraordinary set of Hammershøi masterworks from the National Gallery of Denmark—a distinguished institution with a legacy of collecting both historic and contemporary art. Prominently featured in two recent Scandinavia House exhibitions— Luminous Modernism: Scandinavian Art Comes to America, 1912 (2011) and Danish Paintings from the Golden Age to the Modern Breakthrough: Selections from the Collection of Ambassador John L. Loeb Jr. (2013)— Hammershøi’s work is visionary in its grasp of the modernist aesthetic and has long enjoyed enormous popularity throughout Europe. This exhibition provides visitors with an opportunity to slow down, look closely at these captivating paintings, and enjoy a moment of quiet reflection.” 


Vilhelm Hammershøi, Interior with the Artist’s Easel, 1910. Oil on canvas, 33 x 27 1/5 in. (84 x 69 cm). Statens Museum for Kunst, smk.com.

Dr. Monrad said, “While Hammershøi’s work reflects the special identity of modern Scandinavian art, the viewer is offered no single clue by the artist—we are never sure of his intentions. The experience becomes a contemplative one in which viewers create their own interpretations. We are delighted to provide New York audiences with that experience while also providing an opportunity to examine Hammershøi’s singular compositions, his artistic goals, and the range and consistency of his practice.” 


Vilhelm Hammershøi, Interior. Artificial Light, 1909. Oil on canvas, 23 5/8 x 32 5/8 in. (60 x 82.8 cm). Statens Museum for Kunst, smk.com.

Exhibition Overview 
Spanning the early years of Vilhelm Hammershøi’s career, when his unorthodox work was met with bafflement by the public and awe by his contemporaries, to his later years as an internationally recognized master, Painting Tranquility illuminates the artist’s trailblazing style. While Hammershøi’s choice of subject matter was seemingly typical of the time, his depictions defied conventional expectations that were steeped in the tradition of Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. Rather than adhere to realistic interpretations, light and air play major roles, taking on an almost physical tactility even as material objects are dissolved and thereby creating an ethereal sensibility.  


Vilhelm Hammershøi, Portrait of Ida Ilsted, Later the Artist’s Wife, 1890. Oil on canvas, 42 x 33 7/8 in. (106.5 x 86 cm). Statens Museum for Kunst, smk.com.

Using unusual or irregular compositional strategies, removing people from street scenes, omitting detail and narrative, and embracing a muted, subtle palette, he reimagined the landscapes, interiors, and portraits of the Nordic artistic tradition. As his teacher, the painter Peder Severin Krøyer, wrote, “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.” 


Vilhelm Hammershøi, Near Fortunen, Jægersborg Deer Park, North of Copenhagen, 1901. Oil on canvas, 21 5/8 x 26 1/5 in. (55 x 66.5 cm). Statens Museum for Kunst, smk.com.

Hammershøi is best known for interiors of middle-class homes, a popular genre in 19th-century Denmark. In Interior Strandgade, Sunlight on the Floor (1901) and Interior. An Old Stove (1888), exquisitely modulated sunlight falls on the floors, walls, and doors of Hammershøi’s Copenhagen apartment. The paintings’ lack of detail (he substituted sparely decorated rooms for his comfortably furnished ones) and evacuated narrative evoke an atmospheric vagueness that can be at once contemplative and claustrophobic. This was a departure from his contemporaries who typically painted interiors that suggested a story unfolding and conveyed warmth and harmony. 


Vilhelm Hammershøi, Woman Seen from the Back, 1888. Oil on canvas, 25 x 21 5/8 in. (63.5 x 55.5 cm). Statens Museum for Kunst, smk.com.

In his portraits, Hammershøi dispensed with many of the standard elements of the genre, rendering his paintings unusual and unfathomable to his contemporary audiences. In his Portrait of Ida Ilsted (1890), he chose to depict his future wife sitting idly in a bare room, an indeterminate look on her face, eliminating the details traditionally used to suggest a sitter’s personality, such as portraying an activity or a particular moment. Eschewing commissions, his subjects were almost exclusively his immediate family and close friends. 


Vilhelm Hammershøi, Amalienborg Square, Copenhagen, 1896. Oil on canvas, 53 3/4 x 53 3/4 in. (136.5 x 136.5 cm). Statens Museum for Kunst, smk.com.

Hammershøi took a similarly novel approach to his landscapes and paintings featuring local architecture. In depictions of Copenhagen like The Buildings of the Asiatic Company (1902), he depopulates the busy street scenes favored by Danish proponents of naturalism and realism, inventing a quiet, static city devoid of movement. In View of Jægersborg Allé (1892) and other landscapes, he rejects the romantic renderings of untouched countryside favored by Nordic naturalists, opting instead to paint isolated scenes of diffused tree tops and dissolved bands of color. Dr. Monrad said, “It hardly seems possible to imagine a vein of landscape art further removed from 1880s Nordic Naturalism than his.”


Vilhelm Hammershøi, Self-Portrait, 1890. Oil on canvas, 20 1/2 x 15 1/2 in. (52 x 39.5 cm). Statens Museum for Kunst, smk.com.

While Hammershøi’s work received much acclaim during his lifetime, after his death in 1916, it was largely forgotten outside of Scandinavia. Following several key exhibitions in the 1980s in Copenhagen, Washington, and New York, notably Kirk Varnedoe’s landmark 1982 Northern Light: Realism and Symbolism in Scandinavian Painting, 1880-1910, appreciation for his work expanded. His paintings can now be found in private and public collections in Copenhagen, Paris, New York, Hamburg, London, and Tokyo. Having steadily collected Hammershøi’s work since his lifetime, SMK currently has among the most comprehensive collection of his work in the world.


Vilhelm Hammershøi, Self-Portrait. The Cottage Spurveskjul at Sorgenfri, North of Copenhagen, 1911. Oil on canvas, 49 5/8 x 58 7/8 in. (126 x 149.5 cm). Statens Museum for Kunst, smk.com.