Vilhelm Hammershøi: The Poetry of Silence by Royal Academy of Arts, London (Sackler Wing); Hammershøi by Felix Krämer, Naoki Sato and Anne-Birgitte Fonsmark - review by Paul Binding

Paul Binding


Vilhelm Hammershøi: The Poetry of Silence




Royal Academy 176pp hbk £35/pbk £19.95

In Hammershøi’s very last painting, Interior, Strandgade 25, his wife Ida sits sewing at a table with coffeepot and cup to hand. The only other chair at the table is empty, standing at an angle suggesting it has been recently vacated. Beyond, white doors open one after another, with a sofa against a wall at the end. Hindsight gives the picture a valedictory quality: the artist died of throat cancer, at the age of fifty-one, only months later. The expression on Ida’s face combines intentness on her task with sad reflectiveness; viewing it juxtaposed with the sequence of doors behind her, we can’t but feel Hammershøi is confronting here the prospect of the long years awaiting her after his death. The colours constitute a symphony of greys, in which whatever is white casts a grey shadow. 

Yet in truth there is nothing about the painting that separates it from the artist’s previous productions, of which it serves as a wonderful summation. Ida, household china, room interiors with white doors, stoves, dining-chairs, even that culminating sofa – all occur repeatedly in his work for over a quarter-century.

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