Sunday, 10 August 2008

Hammershoi - A Dilemma

The first time I saw a painting by Hammershoi was at a Hayward Gallery exhibition of works bought for the nation by the National Art Collection Fund. Once I had recovered from the stirring sight of four of the most beautiful bottoms in art all together in one room - Canova's Three Graces and the Rokeby Venus - I found myself drawn repeatedly to a small painting with an extraordinary stillness about it, filled with a cool light beautifully rendered in a palette mostly of whites and greys. I had seen nothing quite like it. This, it turned out, was just about the only Hammershoi on public display (occasionally) in Britain. (It's this one.)
I mentioned it to my dear friend J. Cheever Loophole, who, despite the name, is half Danish, has long been a fan of this great Dane, and was able to fill me in. A couple of years later, Michael Palin also declared himself a fan and made a documentary that no doubt did much to popularise Hammersoi. And now we have this - and I am seriously debating whether or not to go. Hammershoi , it seems to me, is the last artist to enjoy in the context of a Royal Academy blockbuster, with the paintings hung en masse and the crowds jostling and elbowing their way from picture to picture - so much for the Poetry Of Silence... A small, quiet gallery, sparsely hung with a few well chosen paintings - that surely would be the way to savour Hammershoi.
Maybe I'm wrong and I should go - heaven knows I'd love to see more of his work. So, has anyone out there 'done' this exhibition? If so, what was it like?

8 comments:

  1. I know nothing of Hammershoi but like you Nige have spent many a happy moment (at the Scottish National) admiring those delicious bums, bit small though.

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  2. Oh, how I'd love to see this exhibit, Nige. I've been a fan of all things Danish since reading Rose Tremain's "Music and Silence." Never been to Copenhagen and would love to go there.

    This painter's skill with rendering light in different contexts -- in shuttered rooms, or dark streets at dusk -- looks amazing. But it's always SO much painter to see paintings in person rather than on a computer screen (duh, I guess that's obvious).

    i was just at our museum of art with my niece and nephew, admiring other late 19th-c painters, including lots of Whistlers. I don't think we have a Hammershoi -- I'd have remembered. How big is his oeuvre? I doubt if he's a Monet, with thousands of canvases in every museum. My niece, only 17, has noticed that she's seen Monets in every art museum she's ever visited. yup. What is 'hypergraphia' when applied to painters? He had it.

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  3. SB, insufficiently caffeinated,10 August 2008 at 15:50

    So much BETTER.... But you got it, I'm sure.

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  4. Ah yes Whistler - still so underrated over here - we didn't even mark his centenary in 2003. Monet certainly painted far too much, but galleries love him for the obvious reason that he draws the punters in. We recently had an exhibition of plein air paintings of Normandy from the late 19th century which included a roomful of Monets - turned out to be good news, as it left the other rooms free for us admirers of Whistler, Courbet and others who were represented by rarely seen paintings. Hammershoi's work - there's quite a lot of it - seems to be nearly all in Denmark, but I believe the exhibitn is coming/ has been to NY...

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  5. Nige, the utterly ghastly statue to which you refer is known in this house as "The Three Arses", (originally coined by Private Eye). I seem to remember there was a big fuss several years ago when it nearly got exported to the US. Frankly, the Yanks got off lightly.

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  6. Ghastly Sophie, ghastly?! You can't argue with those bottoms though, can you. Well I can't...

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  7. ". . . Gabriel Josipovici discovers peace, exhilaration and a whole new way of being modern in the paintings of Vilhelm Hammershøi . . . ." in This week's TLS, August 13, 2008.

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  8. This won't really have effect, I consider like this.

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