Vilhelm 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.
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 who it could be said looked backwards and seemed old fashioned due to his tonal 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 reaches out toour very modern world even if he can’t quite be placed as symbolist, existentialist or modernist.