Klassisk Hammershøi. Till vänster 'Rum i Strandgade med konstnärens hustru', till höger 'Interiör med konstnärens staffli'. Foto: Statens Museum for Kunst
Klassisk Hammershøi. Till vänster 'Rum i Strandgade med konstnärens hustru', till höger 'Interiör med konstnärens staffli'. Foto: Statens Museum for Kunst


Hammershøi – master of (dis)quiet

Vilhelm Hammershøi is known for his use of a subdued color palette and his paintings of quiet interiors, cool sunlight, and women looking away. His works can be seen as both light and dark, calming and disturbing. A century after his death, Hammershøi remains a mystery and one that it is being revisited – both in Denmark and abroad.

SAS Cargo recently brought a valuable collection of Hammershøi’s artwork home from San Francisco. The pieces had been on a one-year tour in USA and Canada,where they were exhibited first in New York and then in Toronto and Seattle, attracting a great deal of media attention. For although Hammershøi’s works are more than 100 years old, they have a timeless, existential quality that draws in the modern observer. 

Interiör av V. Hammershøi. Foto: Statens Museum for Kunst

“Hammershøi’s art examines themes that are still important to us today: stillness, meditative calm, contemplation, and concentration, but also loneliness, isolation, and alienation,” says Hanne Støvring, Executive Director for American Friends of Statens Museum for Kunst in New York, which co-organized the exhibition. 


American Friends of Statens Museum for Kunst is co-arranging athe travel of the exhibition  from east to west in the US. AFSMK is a danish-american organisation, which aims to strengthen the relationship between the museum and the american audience by actions that benefits the museum. Read more at afsmk.org

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“While the collection was in New York, I gave some guided tours of the exhibition to many of the private donors – and one of the things I particularly noticed was this meditative quality,” Støvring says. “In a city like New York, which is characterized by bustle, colors, and confusion, it was strikingly peaceful to step into the gentle universe of the Hammershøi exhibition.”

Hammershøi’s understated style is difficult to categorize, but longtime Hammershøi fan Michael Palin has aptly called it “a mixture of Vermeer and Edward Hopper”. His color palette and subjects divided opinion in his day and they still do now. Some experience serenity while others find Hammershøi almost creepy – why do we only see these women from the back? Why are they always alone in these quiet living rooms? What’s lurking beneath the surface? 

Kvinna sedd bakifrån. V. Hammershøi. Foto: Statens Museum for Kunst

The mystery and the different interpretations of whether it is calm or unease that is portrayed keep interest in the pictures alive.

“Kasper Monrad (curator of the exhibition, ed.) says that he believes a major reason why Hammershøi’s art still attracts so much attention is that there is more than one approach to the pictures,” Støvring says.

“We all see things differently, and sometimes we even see them differently on different occasions.  Sometimes they are bright, light, and welcoming, other times tense and oppressive, almost claustrophobic. Kasper usually says: ‘Everyone has their own Hammershøi’.” 

Asiatisk Compagnis byggnad, sedd från St. Annæ Gade i Christianshavn, København. V. Hammershøi. Foto: Statens Museum for Kunst

Støvring says there is still strong demand for the artworks. “We were approached early on by a museum in the Netherlands that wanted to take over the exhibition after America,” she says. “We decided to say no. Hammershøi has been away from home for almost a year and needs to return to Statens Museum for Kunst. His usual audience is missing his works – we can see that from social media, and the museum staff have also noticed that a lot of people have been asking for more Hammershøi over the past year,” she says. 

As The New Yorker wrote in its review of the exhibition: “Once Hammershøi gets to you, you may well…be his for life.” 

Text: Lise Hannibal

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