Estimated to Achieve $3-5 Million
The Painting Carries the Highest Estimate Ever Placed on a Work by Hammershøi
NEW YORK, 6 APRIL 2023 – Described by a contemporary critic in 1907 as “the most still and silent” of all the Danish painters, Vilhelm Hammershøi has cast an enigmatic spell over audiences for more than a century with his modern and timeless aesthetic. The resonance of his painterly vision has become increasingly acute in the twenty-first century as viewers take refuge in his enigmatic works, where time seems to stand still.
This spring in New York, a painting by Hammershøi which has hung for over three quarters of a century on the very wall it depicts in Strandgade 30, Copenhagen – the apartment that was occupied by the artist and his wife Ida from 1898 until 1908, where he painted what are considered to be his most important interior paintings, and which was bought by the grandparents of the current owners in the mid twentieth century – is set to star as one of the highlights of Sotheby’s Modern Evening Auction on 16 May. As one of the flagships of Danish art today, Hammershøi is also now regarded as a transcendental modern master among the pantheon of artists who defined a relentlessly epic period in art history.
Last offered at auction in 1944, Interior. The Music Room, Strandgade 30 comes to the market with an estimate of $3 – 5 million, the highest estimate ever placed on a work by the artist. The painting has been shown outside Scandinavia on one occasion only, as part of a monograph exhibition on Hammershøi which travelled from Copenhagen to Paris and New York in 1997-98. From April 12th to 16th, it will go on view at Sotheby’s in London, ahead of a pre-sale viewing in New York in May.
“It is immensely exciting to be able to bring to the market this exceptional interior, which stands out both on account of its quality and quintessential subject matter but also of its provenance. In the same family ownership for over three quarters of a century, during that time it has graced the very wall it depicts in Strandgade 30, Hammershøi’s Copenhagen home until 1908.”
“It fills us with pride to be sending this Danish masterpiece forth into the world, and for Hammershøi’s inimitable and timeless way of seeing to be appreciated and enjoyed by a global audience. As we have seen in recent years, his aesthetic and popularity have truly transcended his local market, and he now occupies a key position in the canon of classic modern artists.”
The painting’s appearance is timely, not least in light of the heightened interest around Johannes Vermeer and the Dutch master’s sold-out Rijksmuseum exhibition. It is no secret that Hammershøi’s use of light, muted tones and choice of subject are indebted to Vermeer: both artists favored the setting of a simple room with an indirect light source, and Hammershøi travelled to Holland in 1887 where he would have studied the Vermeer’s paintings at first hand.
Hammershøi’s almost spiritual interest in isolation is most powerfully and consistently articulated in his atmospheric interiors, which are imbued with a sense of calm and mystery. Interior. The Music Room, Strandgade 30 was painted in 1907 during the artist’s most accomplished period, in the apartment which played a critical role in his choice of subject. This was the home that inspired him; his stage, perfectly lit, everything in its place and carefully chosen to allow him to punctuate it with pieces from his collections for each painting. On moving into this apartment, Hammershøi had the walls painted a cool grey, which would better absorb and reflect the distinct Nordic light that he sought to capture, and the woodwork a stark white, used brilliantly as a framing device in his compositions. The corner of the drawing room seen in the painting reappears in his oeuvre time and again, with and without his wife Ida, the furniture and wall hangings re-arranged to suit each composition.
Hammershøi’s interest in music is well known, and he and Ida regularly hosted evenings of chamber music in their home. The two string instruments, the cello and the violin, may well have belonged to Hammershøi’s friend, patron and biographer Alfred Bramsen’s children, Henry and Karen, respectively. True to Hammershøi’s counter-narrative aesthetic, however, here the trio of instruments – piano, cello, and violin – idle in silence, their players absent, their muteness amplifying the sense of soundlessness of the interior they occupy. They evoke instead the visual musicality of the composition, a harmonious arrangement in line, space, and light, cadenced by the even but slowly changing daylight illuminating the ensemble through the window to the left.
In a rare interview, from 1907, Hammershøi explained his preference in developing compositional structure: “What makes me choose a motif are… the lines, what I like to call the architectonic attitude in the picture. And then the light, naturally.” His interiors find parallels both in the art of the Dutch Golden Age and in the work of his contemporaries – the grey palette and sense of solitude bear striking similarities to the works of James McNeill Whistler who, also exploring the interrelation between painting and music, titled his paintings ‘symphonies’. A resonance can also be felt in Gerhard Richter’s Kerze (Candle) paintings.
Hammershøi’s work has long been revered as a source of Danish national pride, but the artist has recently been the subject of numerous retrospective exhibitions in Europe, Asia and America, prompting overdue recognition of one of Denmark’s most innovative and celebrated artists. In tandem with this development, museum acquisitions of the artist’s work outside Scandinavia have included The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Städel Museum in Frankfurt. Over the last six years, auction prices for his paintings have exceeded $5 million on multiple occasions. Distinguished by a subdued and refined palette and an architectural and geometric complexity typical of the artist’s most emblematic subjects, Interior. The Music Room, Strandgade 30 is set to captivate collectors and the public ahead of its auction next month.
Matthew Floris | Matthew.Floris@sothebys.com