Denmark is not a country of art, and William Hammershoi is not a famous painter. It is difficult to find traces of him in many art history books. He does not belong to the kind of people who have made significant contributions to the “change of art history”—— For example, a painter who created a genre or style. Compared with the Impressionism and the sharp-edged modern art schools that were already in full swing at that time, he did not carry out any exploration or innovation in artistic forms. In the turbulent era of the Great Leap Forward of Art, he was like a bystander.
Born into a merchant family, Hammershoy started taking painting classes at the age of 4. He later attended an art academy, traveled around, got married, and lived a normal life. Before everyone got to know him in depth, he stayed there quietly, standing in front of the window like the woman in black skirt in his painting.
When I first looked at Hammershoi’s paintings, I felt that his style was “Vermeer + Friedrich + Hopper” – Vermeer diffused light in the room and created a quiet atmosphere; what Friedrich liked was people. The themes of the back and the view from the window; Hopper’s sense of loneliness and alienation can all be found in his paintings. Of course, Hopper was definitely not the “teacher” that Hammershoi followed, because he was born in 1864, a full 18 years older than Hopper. So on the other hand, did Hopper ever see his paintings and be influenced by him?
There is also the shadow of Morandi in Hammershui’s paintings – the famous “Morandi color” – obsessed with various gray colors, simplified objects, single themes, using almost “sexuality” Painting bottles and jars in a “cold” style creates a minimalist figurative vision. Of course, Morandi will not be his teacher, because Morandi is 6 years younger than Hopper.
Later, the author discovered that Hammershoi was deeply influenced by Whistler – that American painter who liked black, white and gray tones and named his works “Concerto”, “Symphony” and other musical names. Hammershoi once painted “The Artist’s Mother”, which is almost a replica of Whistler’s work. The same black dress, the same gray wall, the same white headscarf, the same diagonal composition…the biggest difference It’s just that the mother is sitting in the opposite direction. He was a big fan of Whistler, and even traveled all the way to London to ask for an interview. Unfortunately, he didn’t meet him the first time he came. He was shy and unsure of himself, so he never had the courage to go a second time. .
Hammershoi loved to draw doors, the front door and the side door, and he especially liked to open all the doors, nesting three layers of doors layer by layer.
”The White Door” is his classic work. The door separates the space, but it is also open and does not exclude people. The open door is not open, but empty. It does not welcome you warmly, but opens calmly. At a glance, which room is there? There were only a few pieces of furniture, and it was even completely empty – was his living space really like this? Or is this the life he hopes and understands? The innermost door may have a little light coming through, and it may be the window of that room. I don’t know if there is anyone in the room, but it is almost certain that the painter did not express the story of the room, he just I am painting “empty”, “empty” from the inside to the outside.
Even if there are some utensils in the room, most of them are bare and nothing is placed on the table. Even if there are dinner plates, they are mostly empty. The sofas and chairs are also empty. The painter does not seem to feel that anything is needed to fill them.
Be it doors or windows, as well as the lines on the wall or the picture frame, you can always see his carefully constructed lines in his paintings. These straight lines have a unique rhythm in the painting. These lines, combined with softly curved and slightly blurred portraits, together with light, shadow and tones, constitute his unique aesthetic elements.
Sometimes, he would also draw those straight lines into a kind of lens-edge deformation and distortion. There is no doubt that this is a deliberate effort. This unobtrusive distortion is the little mystery hidden by the artist in the painting, which makes people wonder. The overly flat picture has a bit of a mysterious meaning. Sometimes, he would tilt it slightly when composing the picture, which is also a very inconspicuous design. That slight tilt seems to imply the subjectivity and dynamic sense of observation.
Although he learned Vermeer’s handling of light, he did not use optical imaging equipment to pursue stunning details like Vermeer. In comparison, his brushwork is loose and hazy, which complements his simple paintings.
silent as a mystery
The tones of black, white and gray are the main colors used in his interior paintings. He prefers to use white (actually very light gray) – white doors, white windows, white walls, and white light. In the analysis of colors, white is the color that represents the north. In Northern Europe, where the ice and snow season is long, white should be common, rational and calm; white also means “empty”, and the two words used together mean “blank”; White also represents loneliness and cleanliness. These color characteristics further enhance the quiet and cold atmosphere in the work. The various degrees of whiteness he painted correspond to various forms of “emptiness”.
He likes to paint the backs of women. Most of the women wear long black skirts, and most of them have a beautiful white nape, just like the geishas in Kyoto. However, the difference is that the geisha’s back neck is intentionally decorated with white powder in order to show the beauty and sexiness of the woman. However, the back of the woman’s neck in Hammershoi’s painting is still beautiful, but it is not even remotely tempting.
Sometimes, the woman in the painting uses his sister Anna and mother Frederick as models, and more often it is his wife Ada. Hammershui’s wife has bipolar disorder. Why did he paint his bipolar wife? Become a quiet woman who says nothing? Is it because that’s what he expected? Perhaps in her alternating moods of “mania” and “depression”, depression is the dominant one? In short, he only left the quietest side of her.
The emotional state of the couple is also unpredictable. He painted her one after another. They should be intimate, but most of them only painted her back. When she wasn’t from behind, she would play the piano quietly and as if no one else was watching. Reading, dazing…it doesn’t seem so intimate. One cannot feel the artist’s full love for the person being painted. What one sees is that it is particularly calm and “unintentional”. She does not seem to know that she is being painted. She is just there and he is just painting her.
Unlike Rembrandt and many other great painters, Hammershoi basically does not use eyes to express people’s spirituality, but uses their backs, which have stories and can speak. The deliberate avoidance of “direct gaze” makes it impossible for the person in the painting to communicate with the viewer, thus turning the viewing into a bystander and a review, rather than an interaction. We will also unconsciously guess the woman in the painting. What are you thinking about? This is also about using simplicity to express richness, “less is more”.
Many times, the characters are often only in one corner of the picture, leaving more area to the void of the room, blocking the characters in the picture, and the remaining picture can independently become a very good “still life” painting. Many times, the more eye-catching protagonist is the light, which shines through the window or patio on a certain part of the painting. Time stops there quietly, for a moment or forever.
So the main character in his painting is “empty”. Because he kept repeating the same apartment, he lived in the apartment at No. 30 Riverside Street in Copenhagen for more than ten years. Later, he moved to apartment No. 25 across the street. The more you see his works, the more familiar you will be with his living space, and you can even restore a floor plan. Hammershoi obviously did not feel bored by this. In fact, what he painted was not particularly important. How he painted was what he wanted to express. Even in another residence, he would paint every door and door repeatedly. Windows and every wall are simple yet profound, everyday yet timeless.
Although he has been painting on different walls of his house for more than ten years, Hammershoi is not completely a lonely homebody. In fact, he loves traveling. He has visited many countries in Europe. His favorites are England and the Netherlands, especially the foggy scenes of London, which are somewhat consistent with his paintings. Therefore, he also paints some landscape themes. Although landscape paintings are much richer in color than interior paintings, they still have minimalist compositions and vague brushstrokes. The paintings are good, but not as impressive as his interior paintings. People are impressed.
At the age of 52, Hammershoi died of cancer. Before his death, he burned a large amount of materials and letters related to his creation. He only gave two interviews during his lifetime – he did not want the world to know about him. Personally, or his creative ideas and attitude may even be a bit decisive. He probably feels that everything he wants to say is contained in his works.
During his lifetime, none of his works were selected into the National Gallery of Denmark. After his death, one of his patrons donated 28 of his paintings to the National Gallery of Denmark, but all of them were rejected. It was not until the end of the 20th century that the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and the Guggenheim Museum in New York held his solo exhibitions, and he gradually returned to the public eye.