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Landscapes by Norwegian artists and five paintings by Hammershøi to headline Sotheby's Scandinavian Sale
Johan Christian Dahl, Landscape in Evening Light, signed and dated JCDahl 1853 lower right, oil on panel, 18 by 22.5cm., 7 by 9in. Estimate: 50,000-70,000 GBP. Photo: Sotheby's.
LONDON.- A selection of works by leading Norwegian artists, and five paintings by Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916), will headline Sotheby’s Scandinavian Sale on Monday, 11 June 2012. This masterful group of works represents the refined skill and aesthetic of nineteenth-century artists from Scandinavia. The spectacular group of Hammershøi paintings comes to the market following the company’s sale of three works by the Danish master in November 2011.** Four of the paintings depict Hammershøi’s home in Strandgade 30 in Copenhagen, which provided the backdrop for the artist’s most iconic and celebrated works.

Coming to the market for the first time in almost forty years is a winter view by Frits Thaulow (1847-1906). A Château in Normandy (est. £60,000-80,000, pictured on first page) relates to a series of four pastels the artist executed in January 1895, when heavy snow gave him an opportunity to observe the winter landscape around Dieppe, Normandy, notably the village of Petit-Appeville by the river Scie. Thaulow was Paul Gauguin’s brother-in-law and a close friend of Claude Monet. As it matures, Thaulow’s work clearly shows the influence of the French Impressionists and later the Post Impressionists, interpreted from a distinctly Nordic viewpoint. Winter views, such as the present work, numbered among Thaulow’s favourite subjects.

A work by Johan Christian Dahl (1788-1857), Landscape in Evening Light of 1853, is a beautiful study of a brilliant sunset over the river Elbe (est. £50,000-70,000). It was painted for one of his closest friends in Dresden, Mrs von der Decken. The influence of Dahl’s close friendship with Caspar David Friedrich is clearly evident in the present work in Dahl’s placement of two figures on the silhouetted mountain towards the centre of the painting. Positioned above a gorge and acting as the visual anchor for the composition, this pair of Rückenfiguren (figures seen from the back) is a device frequently employed by Friedrich. As the two figures contemplate the sunset, they underline the palpable sense of awe for the physical world that lies at the heart of Dahl’s aesthetic.

Leading the group of paintings by Hammershøi is Ida Reading a Letter, painted in 1899 (est. £500,000-700,000). This work was among the first painted by Hammershøi in the rooms of Strandgade 30, an address that was to play a critical role in the development of the painter’s singular aesthetic. The painter and his wife moved into the apartment in 1898 and remained there until 1909. His arrangement and rearrangement of the distinctive, sparsely furnished space, bare wooden floorboard, perpendicular wall mouldings, sentinel stoves and painted white doors quickly became the central motif of his work. The present work is painted in a silvery-grey palette and with an absence of sentimentality. These qualities draw a striking comparison with the oeuvre of James McNeill Whistler, the American artist who deeply influenced Hammershøi. Both artists distilled the painting of women in empty rooms to its very essence, the limited tonal range further tempering any narrative. In his subtle use of light, muted tones and subject, Hammershøi perhaps owes his greatest debt to the Dutch seventeenth-century master Johannes Vermeer and he would have seen Vermeer’s works first-hand on a trip to Holland in 1887. The composition is remarkably similar to Vermeer’s Woman Reading a Letter to the extent that it seems impossible Hammershøi did not have this work in mind: both women adopt the same unselfconscious pose, their heads tilted to read a letter; the hairstyle and clothes; the positioning of the table slightly obscuring the figure with an indirect light source flooding the scene. The rarefied light is the principal subject here, with nuances that betray the Danish setting.

Interior with Two Candles, painted in 1904 (est. £400,000-600,000), also depicts a room in Strandgade 30 and comes to auction from a Danish Private Collection. The picture relates to Møntsamleren (The Coin Collector), now housed in the Nasjonalmuseet, Oslo. The very absence of physical human presence, alluded to by the burning candles, imbues the painting with an acutely haunting sense of lingering. It illustrates Hammershøi’s extraordinary ability to capture an ambience of timelessness and introspective solitude, his observation of the ethereal candlelight against the geometric forms of the apartment adding to the work’s powerful effect. The sense of seclusion and introspection is central to the tenets of Symbolism, of which Hammershøi is now regarded as a leading exponent.

The three remaining works in the group comprise the evocatively poetic Ida in an Interior (est. £250,000-350,000), Ida Standing at a Desk (est. £200,000-300,000), and Strandgade with Christians Kirke in the background (est. £100,000-150,000), which sees the artist move beyond the interior of his apartment.


*Pre-sale estimates do not include the buyer’s premium.





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