Vilhelm Hammershøi, Sunshine in the Drawing Room (Solskin i dagligstuen), 1910. Oil on canvas, 58 x 67 cm. Purchased 2017. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Photo: NGC.

OTTAWA.- Sunshine in the Drawing Room, painted in 1910 by one of Denmark’s most celebrated artists, Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864–1916), is now part of the European Collection of the National Gallery of Canada. An important example of Hammershøi’s renowned contemplative interior scenes, it is the first work by the artist in the Gallery’s collection and the second to enter a public collection in Canada. Visitors to the Gallery will be able to view the painting starting today. 

“The Gallery’s acquisition of Sunshine in the Drawing Room fills a gap in our European collection for the period around 1900,” said the National Gallery’s Chief Curator, Paul Lang, “The work offers us the opportunity to introduce the public to an artist of considerable importance in the Scandinavian school of painting.” 

Sunshine in the Drawing Room depicts the living room that doubled as Hammershøi’s studio in the apartment where the artist and his wife lived for ten years in Copenhagen. Having been in private hands since its creation, the work is excellent condition. It is the last in a series of four depictions of the drawing room and the only one painted after 1903, thereby offering a revisionist view of the interior from a different perspective. 

The painting shows a room illuminated by a ray of sunlight beaming through a window that remains out of view. Above an elegant neo-classical sofa, set alongside a chair and a closed secretaire, hangs the portrait of a 19th century gentleman in full view. The window casts a distorted outline against the wall, contrasting with the architectural order of the furniture arrangement. A woman, occupied by some undiscernible task, sits at a table. As is often the case in Hammershøi’s paintings, her back is turned to the viewer without revealing her identity. 

“This painting is exciting on many levels,” said NGC Associate Curator for European and American Art, Anabelle Kienle-Poňka, “Hammershøi used his apartment as a stage set; while we are drawn into his world, the artist’s reserve keeps us at bay. It is this tension between intimacy and privacy that makes Sunshine in the Drawing Room so compelling.” 

At the turn of the last century, the Scandinavian artist’s work set him apart from his contemporaries. “Hammershøi has a distinct style: innovative, but rooted in tradition,” Kienle- Poňka noted. “While he was well aware of other Modernist movements, he charted his own, independent course.” 

Modest, reclusive and introspective, Hammershøi’s oeuvre encompasses some 370 paintings. Throughout his life he devoted himself to a limited range of subject matter: nudes, interior scenes and architectural landscapes. While a major figure in Scandinavia, he was little known in the rest of Europe and North America. Interest in Hammershøi’s art has greatly increased in recent years, owing to a number of major exhibitions in Europe, Japan and North America. 

Hammershøi was one of the painters featured at the legendary Exhibition of Contemporary Scandinavian Art held in New York in 1912, which was received with critical acclaim. At its second venue at the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo in 1913, the exhibition also had a lasting impact on members of the Group of Seven, whose work is represented in great depth in the National Gallery of Canada’s national collection.