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Vilhelm Hammershoi

 (1864 - 1916)
Vilhelm Hammershoi was active/lived in Denmark.  Vilhelm Hammershoi is known for portrait, landscape and interior with figure painting.

Vilhelm Hammershoi

Biography from the Archives of askART

Vilhelm Hammershoi was a Danish painter, born in Copenhagen and it was there, in the old quarter, where he mainly lived and worked. He painted portraits, landscapes and many room interiors which frequently contained a single figure that was seated or standing.

Hammershøi's father was a wholesale merchant, and the family enjoyed a good standard of living but it was his mother who saw the talent residing within Vilhelm and she dedicated herself to promoting his career.

Hammershøi's elder brother was the painter Svend Hammershøi and he studied under N.C. Kierkegaard.

Hammershoi began his training at age 8, and by the time he was in his mid-teens he was already studying at the Royal Academy of Art* in Copenhagen. Towards the end of his study he also enrolled at the Free Study School, which offered a more liberal approach. Another well known Danish artist PS Krøyer was his teacher.

Vilhelm made an impressive debut in the art world with the portrait of his sister, painted in 1885 and titled Portrait of a Young Girl. He was still only 21 but already his originality was obvious and showed a different direction to the accepted normalities of naturalism*. This labelled him controversial in the world of Danish Art.

He married Ida Ilsted in 1891, and she provided the inspiration for many of his future works and is often the lone figure seen in his paintings. They lived a relatively quiet life, apart from Ida's reported fiery temperament, and had no children. They did however travel together throughout Europe, including Paris, Berlin and London. Later in his life he lived in the old merchant house at Strandgade in Copenhagen and he painted the interior of this house more than sixty times.

Hammershøi died of throat cancer in 1916 in Copenhagen at the age of 52.

Many of his paintings show empty rooms or often include the profile, or view from the back, of his wife in a long dark dress. These interior paintings always show rooms inside his own home and due to their popularity, Hammershøi's other subjects have been slightly overshadowed. He has painted sublime* landscapes and architectural pictures that emit a lonely, deserted and empty feeling. There are definite elements of modernism* in his work from the use of a muted palette and his frequent use of exaggerated light to the creation of similar yet subtly different paintings. Yet it is the interiors that remain the most popular due to the way they emit a solitary atmosphere devoid of life but still providing a real emphasis on a feeling of space.

Hammershoi was seen in his own time as an artist of whom it could be said looked backwards and seemed old fashioned due to his tonalist* paintings. This is particularly so if comparison is made to striking colourful modernist artists of Hammershoi's time such as Henri Matisse (1869-1954). In fact Hammershoi is somewhat of an enigma to place and perhaps that is where his popularity stems from. From being anti-modernist in his own time, he can appear to reach out to our very modern world even if he can't quite be placed as symbolist, existentialist or modernist.


* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

Biography from the Archives of askART
Vilhelm Hammershoi  (1864 - 1916)

Vilhelm Hammershoi, was born the 15 May, 1864 in Copenhagen, and pursued his artistic studies at the Royal Academy of Arts from 1879 to 1884, after which he was for sometime a pupil of Peder (Peter) Severin Kroyer (see AskART). In the spring of 1885 he made his first appearance at the annual Charlottenborg Exhibition, on which occasion he displayed the celebrated Portrait of a Young Girl, now in the Hirschsprung Collection. There was little trace in any of his early work of the facile plein aire painting of his master, Kroyer, for from the very outset Hammershoi began to see life and nature after his own inherently subtle and individual manner.

In their delicacy of vision, subdued ambience of tonality, and permeating quietude of spirit these interiors and genre studies are quite without parallel in the province of modem artistic achievement. They recall in a measure the modest triumphs of the Dutchmen of the seventeenth century, yet no Dutchmen ever showed the tense and tremulous subjectivity which these incomparable little panels reveal.

In 1891 Hammershoi, together with a number of the more progressive Danish painters, left the dull official somnolence of Charlottenborg in order to imbibe the fresher atmosphere of the Frie Udstilling, and year by year his work has gained in depth and esthetic penetration. He is now recognized throughout Europe as a unique artistic personality, and in 1911 won the Grand Prize at the International Exhibition in Rome.

Although the early stages of his career were not marked by a conspicuous measure of success, Hammershoi was fortunate in finding a discriminating and enthusiastic patron in Dr. Alfred Bramsen, of Copenhagen, to whose courteous generosity we are indebted for the present characteristic group of canvases.

Christian Brinton, the Catalogue for the 1912 -1913 EXHIBITION of CONTEMPORARY SCANDINAVIAN ART at New York, Buffalo, Toledo, Chicago and Boston

Submitted by M.D. Silverbrooke

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at

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About  Vilhelm Hammershoi

Born:  1864 - Copenhagen, Denmark
Died:   1916 - Copenhagen, Denmark
Known for:  portrait, landscape and interior with figure painting