23 February 2011

Carl Moll: A Banquet In Vienna

"Those who have attained the heights of civilized refinement in their daily life, even if they have otherwise little time for art, make certain demands on the things which satisfied them, upon their whole environment, demands which can be satisfied only with the art of art." - Ver Sacrum, 1900.

"I liked the atmosphere of the house, although its slightly oriental magnificence was less reminiscent of Schindler's time than of the age of Ingres and Delacroix...Japanese vases, great sprays of peacock feathers, Persian carpets on the walls."

To celebrate the New Year and the success of their association, on January 19, 1900  the Union of Austrian Artists, better known as the Vienna Secession, threw themselves a party. Who better to host the festivities than  Carl Moll (1861-1945), artist, dealer, and enthusiatic party-giver?  His new home, decorated with an extravagant orientalism that was anathema to Secessionist ideals, was conveniently located  at No. 6 Theresianumgasse, just off the Ringstrasse.  A duplex designed by architect Josef Hoffmann, it was also home to Koloman Moser, Moll's cofounder in the Secession.  The Hohe Warte, as the area was called,  was just in the process of becoming an art colony when the Molls moved there.

Thirty-six men and three women were invited.  It was that kind of group, Vienna was that kind of place, and Carl Moll was that kind of man in a world where women were objects of fascination and suspicion, women who seemed bent on exercising free agency, even without legal, social, or economic rights.  No wonder the gaiety often was laced with hysteria. 
Moll had been a student of the artist Emil Schindler, living in Schindler's home and lusting after Schindler's wife.  When the master died in 1892, Moll promptly married the widow Anna and became stepfather to Alma Schindler (later Mahler, then Gropius, then Werfel).   Alma, whose childhood ambition was to "fill her garden with geniuses" was twenty in 1900.   Anna, the prudent mother, mindful of her own history, decreed that Alma and her younger step-sister Gretl remain upstairs during the party.

 But Alma had already been flirting with the painter Klimt, who had no more scruples about seducing his friend's nubile daughter than he did about living in a highly irregular situation with his own sister-in-law. At a previous dinner at the Molls', Klimt had shown Alma how to make a heart shape with  her roll  and he then pierced it with a toothpick, like an arrow.  To make sure she got the point, he poured wine on it and declared it an excellent likeness of "my wounded heart."   Carl and Anna took their daughters on an extended tour of Italy but Klimt followed them from Genoa to Verona, escalating from kisses to outright propositions.  Only a direct appeal from Carl Moll stopped Klimt's pursuit.  Now the two would be under the same roof on the same evening.


To set the stage for the evening, Kolo Moser designed  invitations and place cards, and Josef Hoffmann designed the silverware.  "When they first showed up at the Secession exhibitions, a tremor ran through the eating world.  People maintained it was quite impossible to eat with it, not eat properly, and certainly not in the 'English' manner!"  wrote critic Joseph August Lux.  Even so, the guests managed to spear the geometric-shaped dessert ices and scoop up the whipped cream and fruits stewed in liqueur.
Alma was allowed to help with the preparations and left us this diary entry: "We had girandoles and as a centerpiece, a fruit bowl surrounded with flowers - and garlands, with which they later decked me out.  On the table for the older guests, the centerpiece was Hellmer's water-nymph - also surrounded with flowers and garlands, and all the ladies had larges bouquets of violets.  Attached to each bouquet was a card inscribed with  a little poem, which was passed around and signed by each guest in turn." 
A string quartet from the Vienna Philharmonic was hired to serenade the guests and provide music for dancing.  It was the final straw for Alma, who had studied piano and composition with the composer Alexander von Zemlinsky, another of her conquests.  The male guests easily located Alma, watching from an upstairs anteroom and the dancing began.  Kolo Moser introduced Alma to another Secessionist, Josef Maria Auchentaller, who said: "I say, she's pretty."  Moser (remember, he lived next door) eventually proposed marriage to Alma on several occasions, unsuccessfully. 

Exactly how the evening ended is unclear but we do know that when Moll discovered  Alma at the party, other revelers picked him up and carried him off.  Two men, identified as Franz Hohenberger and Maximillian Lenz, put lampshades on their heads and did a "mock-Japanese" dance. 

In an extension of this expansive mood, the Eighth Secession Exhibition planned for later in the year, would be organized around the theme "European Arts And Crafts."  Its invited guests Margaret Macdonald and Charles Rennie Mackintosh would make an impression with their descriptions of arts workshops, introducing the workshop idea that led to  a new secession when Klimt, Moser and others left to organize the Wiener Werkstatte in 1903.  But that is another story. As is the way that Carl Moll 's place in the Vienna Secession has been written out of most histories. (You may also be interested in The Absence of Carl Moll, published here September 21, 2009.).

Founded in the spring of 1897 by a group of young artists, including Max Kurzweil and Josef Engelhart along with those already mentioned, the Secessionists were dissatisfied with the stodginess of the  establishment (a frequent complaint of the young). They  elected Gustav Klimt as their first president. 
Taking note of the success of new  journals promoting the Jugendstil movement (Pan in Berlin - 1895, Jugend in Munich - 1896) the Secessionists published their own journal Ver Sacrum (Sacred Spring) in January of 1898.  Alfred Roller's cover for the first issue, with its tree bursting from the confines of its pot, foretold the group's expansion in every direction. What bound these disparate artists together was both theory (art should not be limited to creating illusion or verisimilitude) and practice (decorative objects are just as important as painting and sculpture).

The first Secession exhibition opened on March 26, creating an immediate sensation.  And how could it not, when it introduced Vienna to the works of Fernand Khnopff and Constant Meunier (Belgium), Auguste Rodin and Puvis de Chavannes (France), Giovanni Segantini (Italy) and Whistler (United Stated)?  By the time their second exhibition debuted on November 12, it was held in their own Secession Hall designed by Josef Hoffmann.   The place eventually earned the nickname of  'The Golden Cabbage.'



Images:
1. Carl Moll - At The Sideboard, 1903, Verlag Galerie Welz, Salzburg.
2.  unidentified photographer - Alma Schindler, c. 1900, Opera Critique.fr
3. Kolo Moser - Abimelech design, 1899, Backhausen Arvchives, Viennna.
4. Josef Hoffmann - design for flatware, Museum of Applied Culture, Vienna.
5 Josef Hoffmann - flatware, 1905, Museum of Modern Art, NYC
6 Josef Maria Auchentaller - Leopold Museum, Vienna.
7 Margaret Macdonald & Charles Rennie Mackintosh - design for Lilybank Terrace, 1901, Museum of Modern Art, NYC.
8. Gustav Klimt - Music, 1895, Neue Pinatkotek, Munich.
9. Kolo Moser - Angel design for stained glass window -Secession Hall, 1897, Museum of Applied Culture, Vienna
10. Josef Maria Olbrich - poster for the First Secession Exhibition, 1898, Museum of Applied Culture, Vienna.
11. Kolo Moser - Furst von Metternichsche, 1899, Albertina Museum, Vienna.
For further reading: Apples of Gold in Settings Of Silver by Carolin C. Young, New York, Simon & Schuster: 2002.
Koloman Moser: Master of Viennese Modernism by Maria Rennhofer, New York, Thames and Hudson: 2002.

18 February 2011

To Paint The Portrait Of A Bird












TO PAINT THE PORTRAIT OF A BIRD

First paint a cage
with an open door
then paint
something pretty
something simple
something beautiful
something useful
for the bird
then place the canvas against a tree
in a garden
in a wood
or in a forest
hide behind the tree
without speaking
without moving...
Sometimes the bird comes quickly
but he can just as well spend long years
before deciding
Don't get discouraged
wait
wait years if necessary
the swiftness or slowness of the coming
of the bird having no rapport
with the success of the picture
When the bird comes
if he comes
observe the most profound silence
wait till the bird enters the cage
and when he has entered
gently close the door with a brush
then
paint out all the bars one by one
taking care not to touch any of the feathers of the bird
Then paint the portrait of the tree
choosing the most beautiful of its branches
for the bird
paint also the green foliage and the wind's freshness
the dust of the sun
and the noise of insects in the summer heat
and then wait for the bird to decide to sing
If the bird doesn't sing
it's a bad sign
a sign that the painting is bad
but if he sings it's a good sign
a sign that you can sign
so then so gently you pull out
one of the feathers of the bird
and you write yours name in a corner of the picture

- Jacques Prevert, translated by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, New York, Doubelday & Company: 1971.














Two careers of  Jacques Prevert (1900-1977),  poet and screenwriter, meet in this piece.  But he had others.  Prevert quit school to work at  Le Bon Marche, possibly the first department store in the world and certainly an inspiration for the novel Au Bonheur des Dames  by Emile Zola (1883).  He was drafted into the French army during World War I and afterward he became a Surrealist.  His last project, left unfinished at his death, was for an animated film, The King And the Mockingbird.   His name is not familiar in the English-speaking world, but his words are: Jacques Prevert wrote the lyrics for one of the most popular love songs of all time: Les Feuilles mortes or Autumn Leaves.

Images:
1. China - fragment of silk embroidered cloth, Ming Dynasty, Musee Guimet, Paris.
2. Japan - coffret made with lacquer, Meiji Period, Musee Guimet, Paris.
2. Japan -

15 February 2011

Hammershoi Moves The Furniture

“”He succeeded in granting the most concrete and most commonplace things - a half empty parlor, a chair, a chest of drawers, a sofa, a beautiful book, a wall with a small forlorn picture, a while door, a short hallway, dust dancing in sunbeams – a quality not of this world, a reflection of sublime existence. His highly intense nervous life, his acutely sensitive emotional being, flourished only in this world of extreme simplicity and silence, tones were what he loved and sought – the tones of stillness. He heard…stillness, and that was where he really existed.” – Julius Elias, 1916


There is something curious  about the paintings of Vilhelm Hammershoi: our responses to them are like Rorschach tests with art.  We may find a clue in  the words of a fellow Dane, the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855):  "We live life forward but understand it backward."    Hammershoi 's interiors  dazzle the viewer with consummate technique. but there is room for us to bring our lives to his paintings or bring his paintings home to our interios lives






We also bring  modern preoccupations to bear on his work, finding abstraction in his seeming clarity and precision, and our relative unfamiliarity with Hammershoi's work as variant of a Danish style with a considerabel history behind it. Most of Danish art of the early 19th century, considered by  Danes as their Golden Age in painting, remains in Danish museums and has  traveled infrequently.  How we apportion the melancholy for the loss of that charmed period with Hammershoi's personal disposition is  an open question still.












Photographs of Ida Ilsted  and Vilhelm Hammershoi, taken during their courtship, show another mood.    This is no small distinction for a couple where both parties came from artistic families: Ida's brother Peter Ilsted became a well-known follower of Hammershoi and Vilhelm's younger brother Svend (1879-1916) was a respected painter and ceramicist.  Where Hammershoi's self-portrait shows a highly serious young man, the photographer caught him with a twinkle in his eye, the kind of look that may have attracted the artistically aware Ida Ilsted.

Some critics have speculated that there were emotional difficulties in the Ilsted family (hardly an unusual occurrence in family life)  to explain their reactions to  Hammershoi's pictures, putting the onus on Ida, the sitter, while overlooking contemporary description of Hammershoi as "the first neurasthenic artist."
The convention of posing a (female) model with her back to the viewer was already an established formal convention in painting by the time Hammershoi employed it.  Repose, for instance, painted in 1905 and often reproduced, strikes me as quite lovely, an affectionate rendering of Ida with her soft  hair gathered in a chignon above the delicate skin of her neck .
This photograph taken in 1898 1898  suggests a more sensual side to Ida than the artist usually allowed the viewer to see.  The young boy pictured with them was their foster son Henry Madsen (1881-1921), possibly the son of art critic Karl Madsen, who is one of the guests in the photograph of the party at the Hammershois' Strandgade 30  apartment.
Early in his career, Hammershoi moved beyond realism to a personal heightening of reality by arrangement and omission.  Critics have noted anomalies, such as missing piano legs (on the piano in  the painting at right) and Ida's missing foot; the picture is also unusual in showing us a  view of the building across the street rather than an indeterminate space.  Light seems to dissolve the outer boundaries in these otherwise controlled images, so what we get is something more like psychological realism.  



Emil Hannover wrote in 1907 of the successful exhibition at the van Wisselingh Gallery, London that the artist's interiors were "a silent protest against the gaudy and gaping tastelessness of our time."  But the Victorian taste for the overstuffed had never been that popular in Scandinavia.  In the photograph of a party at Strandgade 30 in 1899, the room is both less elaborate than the typical bourgeois parlor and more decorative than what  Hammershoi chose to paint. (In the photo, Vilhelm is seated directly under the lamp at the left and Ida is seated farthest right.)

Looking at his many interior paintings, we see what liberties Hammershoi took with furniture arrangements.   Modern eyes may have difficulty adjusting to the 19th century floor plans, as well.  WE are accustomed to houses and apartments designed as a group of rooms around a hallway, not to mention Freudian and Jungian symbolism with which we have invested  such arrangements.  The apartments that the Hammershois lived in were typical of a much older arrangement by being a series of rooms that opened into each other, one after another, making it easy toi close off rooms in winter to conserve heat.   Halls were an additional expense and heating them was difficult.


The open  door is often thought  to be symbolic shorthand for hope. Closed doors, on the other hand, so the thinking goes,  are symbolic of refusal, of finality. A closed door may also be a break with the past.  For the ancient Greeks,  doors symbolized the separation of past from future.  Following their lead, the Shakespearean scholar, Gary Taylor has named death as "the one way walk through the door between culture and history."  Carl Jung was rather heavy-handed in seeing doors as symbolically female, their doors opening one way - inwardly.

 Doors have also seen as symbols of refuge.  In A Dictionary of Symbols, J.E. Cirlot makes an interesting observation about doors in discussing temple doors and altars:  "There is the same relationship between the temple-door and the altar as between the circumference and the centre; even though in each case the two component elements are the farthest apart, they are nonetheless, in a way, the closest since the one determines and reflects the other."
Thro09ughout their married life the Hammershois  traveled frequently and for extended periods, beginning with their six month honeymoon in Paris.  Another trip to London and the Netherlands lasted from October 1897 to May 1898, with a brief return home for the holidays, and followed on the heels of the sale of two paintings to the Russian impresario Serge Diaghilev.  Hammershoi was, in fact, enjoyed an international success never before accorded a Danish artist.

The German painter Emil Nolde lived in Copenhagen for some time around 1900 and he found Hammershoi to be a quiet person.   So did the poet Rainer Maria Rilke who visited in 1904 to collect material for a monograph on the artist that was never completed, unlike his 1903 publication Auguste Rodin.   "Hammershoi is not one of those about whom one must speak quickly. His work is long and slow, and at whichever moment one apprehends it, it will speak of what is important and essential in art." - Rilke
All of which brings me to the portrait of Ida, painted in 1907.  It is hardly flattering, suggesting the losses of middle age - but whose exactly?  The photographic evidence suggests that Ida was a pretty and spirited woman, and we know the couple moved in sophisticated company.   Ida Hammershoi (1869-1949) had more than three decades left to live;  not so Vilhelm, who died on February 13, 1916,  after several months in hospital.  The early signs of throat cancer had appeared around the time his mother Frederikke died in 1914.   Hammershoi had been plagued by neuralgic back pain since 1906 and was periodically confined to bed, unable to paint. 

Images: Photographs from the collection of the Royal Library, Copenhagen.  Paintings from:  Musee d'Orsay, Paris. State Museum of Art, Copenhagen.  Collection of her Royal Highness, Princess Benedickte, Copenhagen.  Aarhus Kunstmuseum, Aarhus.  Ordrupgaard Museum, Charlottenlund.

13 February 2011

Daphne Maugham Casorati: White Roses

How strange these white roses are, their curving petals and leaves and pleasingly rounded glass vase  set against a background of lines and squares reminiscent of Mondrian.  And how much bravura it takes to make a white image from shades of lavender blue.
Daphne Maugham (1897-1982) , later Casorati, was an established artist when she married Felice Casorati.  Even so, her work has suffered from the informal 'one to a family' rule for creative couples that has operated to the disadvantage of women.  Contemporaries commented that she was quiet and often overshadowed in Casorati's circle.









Although English, Daphne Maugham was born while her father Charles Maugham was there on diplomatic assignment, probably in Paris.  Several family members distinguished themselves in diplomacy and the arts, most notably Daphne's uncle, the writer W. Somerset Maugham.





Perhaps her self-assurance can be attributed to her cosmopolitan background, but it took some pluck for a seventeen year-old to enroll at the Academie Ranson, where she studied  with Nabis Paul Serusier and Maurice Denis.  Her Paris years 1914-1921 also included study at the Atelier of cubist Andre Lhote from 1918-1921.  She exhibited work at galerie Druet and at the 1921 Salon d'Automne.  She credited Denis for encouraging her  to develop a spiritual dimension in her work.  Whether or not from Lhote's influence, Maugham's work is always inventive in rearranging the traditional picture plane.


Daphne Maugham traveled to Italy cicra 1925 with her sister Cynthia, a dancer at the Teatro Gualino in Turin.  Through her sister's theatrical connections, Daphne  met Felice Casorati, whom she married in 1931.  She made  the first of dozens of presentations at the Venice Biennale of 1928, a showcase where she would receive numerous prizes throughout her career.  The couple had a son Francesco in 1934, but Maugham was soon back at work in her studio.  Her portraits were much admired, notably her portrait of her friend and fellow painter Nella Marchesini (1901-1953).
I find her tactile use of color appealing, its unforced naturalness gives little hint of the mastery it required.  



Images: works by Daphne Maugham Casorati (White Roses, The Breakfast, Toys, and untitled still life) are from Galeria Dell' Incisione, Brescia.

09 February 2011

Sometimes We're Ivy And Sometimes We're Oak: Ladies Home Journal


From a time, shrouded in the mists of antiquity no doubt, when man first discovered the New Woman, it has been a truism that woman needs advice. And legions have fearlessly offered it.
From a modest beginning as a supplement called Women At Home in the now forgotten Tribune And Farmer, the Ladies Home Journal was born in 1883.   The brainchild of Louise Knapp Curtis, wife of magazine publisher Cyrus Curtis, the Jounal became the doyenne of American women's magazines.  Its motto: "Never underestimate the power of a woman."   Its most influential editor was the Dutch immigrant Edward Bok who presided over the magazine for 30 years from 1889 to 1919.


Bok used the pages of the Journal to promote women's suffrage, pacifism, and conservation. He persuaded America's presidents to address his readers through its pages. The rugged Theodore Roosevelt lauded American Women As Mothers, while the scandal-plagued adulterous Grover Cleveland weighed in on The Honest American Marriage, and Herbert Hoover gave instruction on Thrift And The American Woman to combat the rigors of the Great Depression.

Even as the magazine promoted equal rights for women it inevitably reflected the ambivalence of society at large. Women's Chances As Breadwinners by the artist Gleeson White fretted over a "lack of supreme talent" as though men didn't have the same problem.  Remedies For Cooking Disasters was suitably alarmist in tone. And Menus For Entertaining The Bride  includes the deliciously symbolic dish 'Blushing Fluff', a sweet concoction of whipped cream, egg whites, and stewed rhubarb.

Reflecting women's secondary position in the public arena, the magazine framed controversial topics as questions, most notably in their long-running feature Can This Marriage Be Saved? Responding to Prohibition, the Journal wondered  Can The Church Replace The Saloon? A photo expose of the newly popular bathing beaches from the 1920s raised the alarm: How Much Of This Do You Want Your Daughter To Share? And it addressed the perennial parental fear of popular music: Does Jazz Put The Sin In Syncopation?  Losing battles all, but saloons, beaches, and dance floors were arenas of potential personal freedom just as the voting booth was.

World War II changed many things, but not the Journal's propensity to worry for its readers. To find out Have You An Inferiority Complex? the reader had to answer questions like "Are you thrown into confusion when your husband makes a social blunder?" Celebrities, including Albert Einstein, Walt Disney, and Joan Crawford were asked to answer a child's question Why Was I Born?

In the midst of post-war prosperity, there seemed to be plenty to worry about. Dorothy Dix (1861-1951), marriage advice columnist and the most widely read woman journalist post World War II, warned: "In these days when men are loathe to burden themselves with the support of a family, girls are continually assaulted with free love propaganda." Popular historian Will Durant, asked to answer the weighty question 'What is Civilization?", hurled a jeremiad at readers: "(O)ur music is barbarous, our art...is mere groping, our literature has deteriorated since Emerson." And Abraham Stone, M.D., bravely catalogued What Husbands Don't Know About Sex. (It's a long article.)


Even in the doldrums of the 1950s, the Journal found feminist bright spots. An article The Best Kings Have Been Queens suggested that things had been better in other times and might yet be better again.  Profiling two queens, Elizabeth of England and Julianna of the Netherlands, in 1960, the Journal pointed out that The World's Richest Women Are Queens. True as far as it went, but hardly practical career advice.
The Journal also welcomed articles from serious women with serious things to say, from Eleanor Roosevelt to aristocrat-turned-member of the British Parliament, Viscountess Nancy Astor. Lady Astor's words from 1940 on women in politics ring true even today. She acknowledges the arguments for women's participation in the political arena, based on stereotypes of nurturing and peacemaking, but brushes them aside. She is tough, realistic, and straightforward: "(T)here is nothing in women's past that they want to go back to, so of course they want to go forward."

And then came the sit-in of March 18, 1970.  Feminists occupied the Journal's Manhattan editorial offfice for eleven hours.  Among other worthy things, they demanded  an end to Can This Marriage Be Saved?    with its monthly variations on the old joke: "They have a give and take relationship.  She gives and he takes."  Only women weren't laughing anymore. 
For further reading: THE JOURNAL OF THE CENTURY (1883-1976) edited by Bryan Holme, et al,  New York, :Viking Press:  1976

06 February 2011

Vilhelm Hammershoi: Where The Light Comes From


I like to think that the slant of light in this photograph is more than a happy accident.   Ida and Vilhlem Hammershoi are seated at a table, light falling on them from a source beyond the picture frame.  The year was 1906 and the Danish painter and his wife were visiting the Sussex home of their British friend and patron,  concert pianist Leonard Borwick (1868-1925). 
If Borwick was the photographer, he may have made this image deliberately, as an homage to his friend the painer.  Although Hammershoi painted many domestic scenes, he did not use them to reveal the details of his domestic life and this has left a void that speculation has rushed to fill.
There are similarities to Hammershoi's style and, at the same time, echoes Hammershoi's 1898 painting of himself and Ida seated at a table. 
Hammershoi  (1864-1916) painted interior scenes throughout his career and with his marriage to Ida Ilsted in 1891  established a home that provided him with subject matter ready to hand.   Already, in 1893, we see the characteristic devices, light coming from an unseen source (often from the left) an open door, and Ida presnted in a recognizable Nordic pose.   Similarly, David Alan Brown in his book Virtue And Beauty: Leonardo's Ginevra de' Benci  and Renaissance Portraits of Women (Princeton University Press: 2001) explores the variations to be found in the left-turned profile in portraiture.
If Hammershoi does not lay his life bare in his paintings, he  gives us what art critics call a 'projection surface', for us to fill by imagination.  What he said about these images in an interview in 1907 was this:
"What  makes me choose a motif are...the lines, what I like to call the architectural content of the image.  And then there's the light, of course.  Obviously, that's very important, but I think it's the lines that have the greatest significance for me.  Color is naturally not without importance.   I'm really not indifferent to how the motif's colors look.  I work hard to make it look harmonious.  But when I choose a motif, I'm thinking first and foremost of the lines."

During their marriage, the Hammershois lived in a series of apartments in the Christianhavn section of Copenhagen, built in the 17th century on the eastern side of the city.  Built to King Christian's urban plan, the building were made from stone, to better keep out the cold, and with long windows to let in the maximum amount of sunlight.   From 1898 to 1908 the Hammershois lived at Strandgade 30, they moved to Bredgade 25 in 1910, and in 1913 to the Asiatic Company Building at Strandgade 25. 
It can be difficult to orient ourselves in these rooms, at least partly because the source of light most often comes from the left, even though the couple lived on both the northwest and southeast sides of Strandgade.  There are reasons to think that Hammershoi admired the work of the Dutch master Vermeer and  not only in the common slant of light they preferred .  As with Vermeer's  woman reading a letter (below), Hammershoi's image of Ida reading a book reveals less than we want to know, leading us to interrogate the placement of each object  for clues.







For Hammershoi, the suggestion of a window is often enough; its importance as a source of light is what matters, just as a door may be open or closed.   In  A Dictionary of Symbols (1962) , J. E. Cirlot  wrote that it is the relationship between the circumference and the center of a room that matters, "even though in each case the two component elements are the farthest apart, they are nonetheless, in a way, the closest since the one determines and reflects the other."  Often we look across an empty foreground at layers of a scene, invisible to the ordinary eye, but made explicit by the artist.


In the face of such subtlety, critics have been tempted to imagine matrimonial dramas  but the dramatic impetus may come from the artist himself.  Both Vilhelm and Ida were considered sensitive characters by their friends.  One critic even described Hammershoi as the first neurasthenic artist.
An early enthusiast, Hermann Bahr wrote in 1894: "One must...have receptive and sensitive nerves that immediately respond to the slightest hint, otherwise this art will be without effect.  And then there is something rarer and more difficult one must be accustomed to self-analysis... in order to transmit each nervous impulse to the mind."





For me, a Hammerhoi interior makes visible the tenuous balance between possibility and distance in human life, highly finished images that portray the hauntingly unfinished nature of human emotions.   On a practical level Copenhagen, situated on the same latitude as Moscow, has very short days in winter (8:30 A.M.-3:30 P.M.) and very long ones in summer (3:30 A.M.-10 P.M.).  Regardless of length and, even on sunny days, the city has been described as wearing a "grey overcoat."   Mysterious, transparent, and mobile, light is like a Zen koan.
Images:
1. unknown photographer - Ida & Vilhelm Hammerhoi at Borwick's-Sussex, 1906, Royal Academy of Art, London.
2. Vilhelm Hammershoi - The Artist and His Wife, 1898, Aarhus Kunstmuseum, Aarhus, Denmark.
3. Vilhelm Hammesrhoi - Interior, Ny Bakkehus, Fredericksberg, 1893, Gotsborg Konsthall, Gothenborg, Sweden.
4. Vilhlem Hammershoi - The Music Room at Strandgade 30, 1907.
5. Vilhelm Hammershoi - Sunshine in The Drawing Room, 1903, National Museum, Stockholm.
6. Vilhelm Hammershoi - Ida Reading. Strandgade 30, 1909, Sonderjylland Museum, Kunstmuseet Brundlandslot, Aabenraa.
7. Johannes Vermeer - Woman  Reading A Letter, c.1657-1664, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
8. Vilhelm Hammershoi - Interior with Ida Playing the Paino, 1910, National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo.
9. Vilhelm Hammershoi - Interior. Bredgade 25, 1911, Aarhus Kunstmuseum, Aarhus, Denmakr.
10. Vilhelm hammershoi - Interior with Plant. Bredgade 25, 1911, Malmo Art Museum, Malmo, Sweden.