25 October 2012

Enfilade: Vilhelm Hammershoi

In French, the verb enfiler means to to thread or, as defined by Larousse: " to string together as in a series or a row."
In architecture, enfilade is the term that defines what you are looking at in these images, an arrangement of rooms that are aligned in sequence.  
There is the grand use of enfilade that began for Europeans during the Baroque era, in such  palaces as the Charlottenburg in Berlin and at Versailles.  Salons were arranged on an axis, from public to private rooms, giving a visual effect  that was both amusing and a an expression of privilege.  
Then there is the humble version, the one found in dwellings  built a room at a time and added to as time and money allowed.  The rooms may be perfectly aligned or not; there is no plan being followed other than that of necessity.
Today, we have become accustomed to homes where rooms are separated from each other and entered through hallways,  so this arrangement lokks odd, or even deliberately strange..

The  Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershoi (1864-1916) painted dozens of interiors of apartments where  he and his wife Ida lived in the old Christianhavn section of Copenhagen.  The first and third images shown here are from Strandgade 30 and the second and fourth from a later home at Strandgade 25.  The doors opening from room to room or to indefinite spaces stimulated the artist's imagination and it does something similar for the viewer.
A painting like White Doors (ca. 1905) invites speculation, although it turns out that the wavering across the top of the picture (above)  has a prosaic explanation; the canvas was removed from the stretcher before it was completely dry.
Formal explications involving geometric planes and surfaces, and the representation of three dimensions on flat canvas, both make a connection between Hammershoi's work and modernism   And the door as symbol comes trailing a long train of psychological interpretations.

What interests me here is how these same views are reinterpreted  with the passing of time and the accretions of a shared life..  Ida Ilsted Hammershoi, who appears in the pictures, was the sister of another artist, Peter Ilsted, so her participation in these paintings should not be dismissed as unsophisticated or passive, as it often is.   With Ida in the picture, the furniture and the stove return to the kitchen of Strandgade 25.  We are also offered a better angle to view through to the living room and the distinctive wood-framed couch there.  Not only can we identify the rooms and their place in the couple's life together but the colors are restored.  Now we notice how the artist has bleached the colors out of his architectural interiors

This last picture of Strandgade 30 is the the yellow room (above).    Here the stove is not painted out of the picture; it is merely camouflaged by an open door (the chimney is suggested in the shadowy corner).  Ida stands in the next room that leads to the enclosed porch opening onto the building's interior courtyard.   That she stands with her back to us can be construed in many ways but not conclusively.  Sometimes the view of a woman's head and neck were viewed as a subtle suggestion of eroticism, or simply used as a recognizable convention in painting.  Modern viewers wonder if the pose erases a subject's individuality.  Some of the artist's contemporaries thought it might be a protection of Ida's privacy.
The amateur sleuth can assemble the floor plans of the Hammershoi apartments from comparison of his paintings.  But, be warned.  The artist moved even the heaviest pieces of furniture - at least in imagination and on canvas.

Note: Hammershoi usually did not record titles for his paintings, so most of them have been attributed by curators and critics.
Vilhelm Hammershoi - Interior. Strandgade 25, 1914, Ordrupgaard, Copenhagen.
Vilhelm Hammershoi - White Doors, 1905, The David Collection.
Vilhelm Hammershoi - Interior. Strandgade 25, 1915, private collection, courtesy of The Atheneum.
Vilhelm Hammershoi, Interior. Strandgade 30, 1901, National Museum of Finland, Helsinki.


Tania said...

Light, space, solitude, that's what I see first in this "Interiors".
("Trois pi├Ęces en enfilade": Brussels typical houses.)

Jane said...

Tania, interesting to hear that this type of house is common in Brussels. The Christianhaven area of Copenhagen where the Hammershois lived was built in the 17th century.

annie smart said...

Thank you for this. I'm constantly struck, as a set designer, by the creation of vibrant expectation with any enfilade structure. Nothing else compares.
The room to room style is common throughout Europe: France, Spain, Russia, Italy etc. It's not at all limited to southern Scandinavian and Netherlands. In fact it was generally preferred in domestic architecture of the mid and late 1700s when women's dresses were wide and so narrow hallways and corridors were impractical and unflattering. Most C18th English mansions feature them. Middle and working class homes used them to exploit space more effectively, as you suggest here with the Hammershoi apartments.

Jane said...

Annie, so interesting to hear from you. In your work you would, of course, be more sensitive to the aesthetic and dramatic possibilities that this type of arrangement offers.
Salt-boiler's cottages that I've seen have the oddest floor plans; they were added to as needed. The floor plans only make sense only if you start with the oldest room(s).
You can learn a lot from vernacular architecture, when it survives.

Wouter Pijnenburg said...

"The first and third images shown here are from Strandgade 30 and the second and fourth from a later home at Strandgade 25"

I'm sorry but you're wrong. It is exactly the other way around. Die Vier Zimmer (The Four Rooms) was painted in 1914 whilst he and Ida lived on Strandgade 25 in the former Danish East-India Company headquarters.

i could provide you with the floor plans and everything of this Enfilade to support this claim.

Jane said...

Thank you, W.P., for your comments. The four books I used on Hammershoi had inconsistencies between them so any information you would be willing to share would be most welcome.