Forty of Vilhelm Hammershøi’s melancholy works—an empty room, an open door, a slant of cold Nordic light, a woman alone seen from behind in a long, dark dress–are on display at the Jacquemart André Museum in Paris through July 22. Quiet and withdrawn, the Danish artist, who died in 1916, spent his life living amongst an intimate circle of family and friends, all of whom serve as models for his paintings, many of his wife, Ida, often seen from the back.
Painted in a restricted palette of shades of grey, his haunting, unpeopled scenes, imbued with a feeling of disquieting strangeness, are vaguely reminiscent of the domestic interiors by Vermeer and Chardin, his visions of solitude and alienation can also bring to mind Hopper (Michael Palin of Monty Python fame, a great admirer and collector of the artist’s work, calls him “a weird but heady fusion of Vermeer and Edward Hopper”) and by turns Magritte, Whistler (Hammershøi’s 1886 portrait of his mother was inspired by the Whistler’s iconic Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1, the elderly, seated figure staring enigmatically into the distance), Gwen John and their visions of solitude and alienation.
His landscapes, inscribed in the tradition of the Danish Golden Age, also subvert it; he would remove picturesque details, veering toward abstraction, painting vast, silvery skies and distant horizons devoid of human presence that become mental landscapes. Paintings from the model seemed less like nudes than naked women, detached yet vulnerable, more clinical than sensual.