Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916) was a Danish painter best known for his restrained, enigmatic interior scenes, landscapes, and portraits. Though his paintings are occasionally classified as Tonalist, Hammershøi’s works tend to defy neat categorizations, and are known more for their mysterious, lonely quality and cool, muted palette.
Hammershøi was born in 1864 in Copenhagen, Denmark, and was encouraged by his mother to pursue artistic training from an early age. Hammershøi embarked on his study of painting and drawing at age eight, and by his teens was already studying at the Royal Academy of Art in Copenhagen. From 1883 to 1885, he studied under Peder Severin Krøyer before his debut in the 1885 Charlottenborg Spring Exhibition with Portrait of a Young Girl, a painting Renoir is said to have admired. Hammershøi’s early works attracted widespread critical acclaim, as well as the admiration of fellow artists and literary figures, from Emil Nolde to Rainer Maria Rilke.
Although he traveled widely in Europe, Hammershøi lived and worked in his native Copenhagen for most of his career. The artist drew inspiration from his immediate surroundings; the rooms of his Old Quarter home featured in many of his celebrated interior scenes, while the Danish countryside provided inspiration for his many landscapes. His wife Ida served as muse; she is the lone figure seen in many of Hammershøi’s quiet, otherwise vacant interiors.
Hammershøi died in Copenhagen in 1916. He now ranks as one of the best-known Scandinavian artists; several large retrospective exhibitions of his work have been organized by major museums in Paris, New York, and London.