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Vilhelm Hammershoi: The Poetry of Silence - RA

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

THE FIRST Vilhelm Hammershoi (1864-1916) retrospective in the UK will be held at the Royal Academy of Arts – in the Sackler Wing Galleries – from June 28 to September 7, 2008.

Entitled Vilhelm Hammershoi: The Poetry of Silence, the exhibition will feature over 60 paintings spanning the career of this celebrated Danish artist. The works have been selected from museums and private collections in Europe, the United States and Japan.

Hammershoi’s most compelling works are his quiet, haunting interiors, their emptiness disturbed only occasionally by the presence of a solitary, graceful figure, often the artist’s wife. Painted within a small tonal range of implied greys, these sparsely-furnished rooms exude an almost hypnotic quietude and sense of melancholic introspection.

Hammershoi portrays in muted tones and with decisive geometric stringency his sparsely-furnished apartments. In so doing, he consistently dispenses with anecdotal detail transforming the interiors into hermetically-sealed places of disturbing emptiness. With refined discretion, he uses the apartment as a pictorial laboratory to make us sense the emotional abyss behind the facade.

In addition to his interiors, the exhibition will also include Hammershoi’s arresting portraits, landscapes and deserted urban spaces in his home town of Copenhagen and in London, recording these in the sombre light of overcast winter days where time seems to have stood still.

Hammershoi travelled extensively throughout Europe, visiting London on several occasions. The magical introspection and psychologically charged nature places Hammershoi within the context of the international Symbolist movement at the turn of the nineteenth century. Yet the overtly personal references that occur throughout his art make it unique.

During his lifetime, Hammershoi was compared to artists such as Eugene Carriere, Fernand Khnopff and – most importantly – James McNeill Whistler with whom his paintings share both a limited palette and a severe simplification of form and composition.

The exhibition has been organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, London, the National Museum of Western Art and NIKKEI, Tokyo. It has been co-curated by Dr Felix Kramer, Curator, Hamburger Kunsthalle, and Dr Naoki Sato, Curator, National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, with Maryanne Stevens, Director of Academic Affairs, Royal Academy of Arts.

Vilhelm Hammershoi: The Poetry of Silence is sponsored by OAK Foundation DENMARK and Novo Nordisk.

Admission: £8 full price; £7 Registered Disabled and 60+ years; £6 NUS/ISIC cardholders; £4 12-18 years and Income Support; £3 8-11 years; 7 and under free.

Times: Daily from 10am to 6pm (last admission 5:30pm); Fridays until 10pm (last admission 9:30pm).

To accompany the exhibition, the Royal Academy will publish a catalogue exploring the singularity of Hammershoi’s vision and examining his links with Dutch masters of the seventeenth century and art of the Danish Golden Age. The book, beautifully illustrated with works that span all stages of Hammershoi’s career, includes essays by Felix Kramer, Naoki Sato and Anne-Birgitte Fonsmark.