»… this modern Nordic Vermeer …«
The Kunsthalle Munich presented the Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916) for the first time in Munich. With more than 100 outstanding works, this retrospective not only offered an overview of his entire creative output, it also placed this painter of silence and light in the context of his European contemporaries around 1900.
A new persective
In previous years, shows in Paris, London, Hamburg, New York and Tokyo established Hammershøi as the most important Danish artist of the second half of the nineteenth century. Over 30 carefully selected paintings by artists such as Fantin-Latour, Matisse, Munch, Seurat and Whistler now positioned the Dane in an international context. Hammershøi has traditionally been viewed as a unique figure in Danish art – a monumental presence, overshadowing his contemporaries and seeking his equal both nationally and internationally. This exhibition sought to broaden this narrow perspective.
Hammershøi and his international context
The presentation explored not only the essential nature of Hammershøi’s art, with its limited range of colours, his dry brushwork and the atmosphere of tension, but also the central themes of his oeuvre, such as the isolated figure in a home setting, the empty room, the abandoned city and the stark landscape. These groupings were presented in a dialogue with works by foreign artists, in order to demonstrate the prominent position occupied by Hammershøi in European painting around 1900. Apart from tracing proven sources of inspiration, the retrospective highlighted mutual discourses with various artists. Thus, it became apparent that people throughout Europe around the turn of the twentieth century were preoccupied with common ideals, fears and desires. Particular parallels could be found in the realm of the international Symbolist movement, and related to phenomena like moods or the sheer human existence, as opposed to purely narrative compositions. In this sense Hammershøi could be compared to the Frenchmen Eugène Carrière, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Henri Fantin-Latour and Georges Seurat, the Germans Hans am Ende and Fritz Overbeck, the Dutch Eduard Karsen and Willem Witsen, the Belgians Fernand Khnopff and Xavier Mellery, the Italian Luigi Selvatico, the Polish Jósef Pankiewicz, the Norwegian Edvard Munch and the American James Abbott McNeil Whistler. Naturally, parallels to paintings by other Danish artists like Anna Ancher, Svend Hammershøi, Carl Holsøe or Peter Ilsted also had to be drawn.
This show has been organized jointly with the Statens Museum for Kunst (National Gallery of Denmark) in Copenhagen. The concept of the show was developed by Kasper Monrad, chief curator at the Statens Museum for Kunst. Responsible for the Munich presentation was Roger Diederen, at the time curator at the Kunsthalle Munich.
A comprehensive, fully illustrated catalogue, available in English, German and Danish, was published by Prestel. It includes several profound essays that position this Danish painter in his artistic and historical context.
This exhibition was held under the patronage of Her Royal Highness Princess Benedikte of Denmark.