A Symphony of Stillness

The first time I saw a painting by Vilhelm Hammershoi, I was mesmerized by the stillness of the work. Born in Copenhagen on May 15, 1864, Hammershoi is the master of stillness and light. To many he is the master of loneliness – I find his almost monotone minimalist rooms soothing and hypnotic – I don’t get the same sense of loneliness from Hammershoi’s works that I get from Hopper’s painting – perhaps because there are no lonely people in many of his rooms.

Vilhelm Hammershoi, Interior with the Artist’s Easel (1910)

Hammershoi takes ordinary looking rooms with minimal furnishings – one chair or a single sofa – and transforms them into magical places that don’t seem to belong to our world. To stop looking at his paintings and tear one’s gaze away almost requires an effort – because it means moving from the calmness of Hammershoi’s world to the chaos of the real world.

Many of his paintings were made in and depict the interiors of his apartment at Strandgade 30 in Copenhagen. In one, light enters the room during the day, in another, moonlight streams into the room while in yet another the room is lit by two candles. The entire composition is made of light, framed doorways, and muted architectural details which leaves the viewer mesmerized.

(Source: Tate Gallery, The Met Museum, Statens Museum for Kunst, Toledo Museum of Art)

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