COPENHAGEN - Being shown round the Vilhelm Hammershøi and Europe exhibition at the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen by its curator Kasper Monrad (who together with his team has a blog about the show) was not only a treat but an eye-opener.

The Danish painter's tonal, mystery-filled interiors and landscapes have long fascinated me, exuding as they do a haunting sense of calm, solitude, and positive feng shui, while also challenging pictorial convention and brushing with the surreal in fin de siècle Europe.

 

But what sets this exhibition apart from other recent Hammershøi shows including the 2008–09 retrospective at the Royal Academy in London and the Museum of Western Art in Tokyo is its comparative component, juxtaposing Hammershoi's work with that of his contemporaries across Europe, and exploring the influences these artists had upon one another.

 

In measuring his work against that of James McNeill Whistler (whom Hammershoi greatly admired but never met), Henri Fantin-Latour, Eugène Carrière, and Fernand Khnopff,  Hammershøi stacks up remarkably well. Sometimes criticised for being too formulaic, seeing a work of his favourite model – his wife Ida – seated in an interior against a work by Pierre Bonnard of a similar subject, I was able to appreciate just what a powerful and avant garde painter Hammershøi really was, both technically and aesthetically.

 

 

Vilhelm Hammershøi, Self-portrait, 1891 Private collection                                                                                  Credit: SMK Foto

 

The exhibition was also satisfying on a more personal level. Walking through the galleries I was confronted not only with paintings Ioaned by the likes of the Louvre, the Tate, and the Thielska Galleriet, but with old friends, by Hammershøi and others, that I had had the privilege of handling and selling over the years. In some way, I felt, my colleagues and I had made our own contribution to the show, having flushed out of various private collections works that would otherwise not have come to be enjoyed by the public.

 

On which note, we have managed to assemble no fewer than five important Hammershøi works for our upcoming European Paintings sale in London on 11 June, all of which would more than hold their own in the current exhibition. With any luck, we might meet them again, perhaps in the next great Hammershøi show, where and whenever that might be.

Vilhelm Hammershøi and Europe ends on 20 May.

From 15 June to 16 September 2012 the exhibition moves to The Kunsthalle of the Hypo Cultural Foundation in Munich.