Vilhelm Hammershoi (1864- 1916), Interior, 1899
The National Gallery

Finally a Hammershoi in the flesh. After being kept captive by the Tate, 1 of 60 interiors painted by the artist, Interior (1899) is on loan to the National Gallery, presented in memory of Leonard Borwick by his friends through The Art Fund 1926. The painting is situated in room 41, Towards Modernity: Cézanne, Monet, and Matisse, amongst artists such as Gustav Klimt and Laurits Andersen Ring.

Although small in size the painting occupies space, drawing the viewer into the portrayed interior. The viewer breathing down the neck of the dark, solitary figure positioned of centre and seeming to float or hold a strangely unstable position. An awkward, voyeuristic intimacy between the viewer and the figure in front of them is established, entering the intimate, confided interior space ahead. Radiating a deeply seductive sense of tranquility, tension and mystery.

The surface of the painting is smooth and technique controlled and concise, the translucent glaze like approach to the paint creates windows in to the process and surface of the painting. Pencil underdrawing is visible through the paint layer and the surface of the canvas revealed.

Hammershoi in the field.

Although not abstract in the sense of perhaps Ian McKeever, Hammershoi’s use of sparsely filled space, perpendicular wall mouldings, tangible use of light and shadow quickly become the motif of the painting and narrative is keep allusive and minimal. The composition of forms, edges and planes begin to play with the push/pull of the picture plane as walls, floors and table tops become ill-defined. The abstracted use of light and muted tones place Hammershoi ahead of his time. This is fitting with the placement of the work in the room titled ‘Towards Modernity’ with the likes of Matisse and Monet. The works described as a demonstration of the continued vitality of painting as an artistic medium in the early 20th century.

"Never did a portrait clearly influenced by the Dutch legacy sail so close to abstraction." 

April Jackson