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Two signature interiors by Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershøi at Sotheby's in London this May
Vilhelm Hammershoi, Ida in an Interior with Piano, 1901. Estimate: ú1,000,000-1,500,000* (Danish Krone 8.7 – 13 million). Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- Vilhelm Hammershøi is to cement further his international reputation with Sotheby’s sale of Interior with Stove and Ida in an Interior with Piano in London on 23 May 2013. The artist has continued to gain a strong foothold on the global stage, not only with a series of museum acquisitions and major exhibitions, but also with an auction record for his work, established at Sotheby’s in June 2012 when Ida Reading a Letter sold for ú1.72 million (Danish Krone 15.75 million / US$2.68 million), a sum which also established a record for any Danish work of art at auction.

Commenting on the sale of the paintings, Nina Wedell-Wedellsborg, Head of Sotheby’s Denmark, said: “In my role as head of Sotheby’s Denmark, it has been fascinating to track the growing international recognition achieved by Vilhelm Hammersh°i in recent years. Hammersh°i has finally, and deservedly, attained a status equal to the leading artists of his era. That he has become the flagship of Danish art today is vindicated by his current holding of the auction record for any Danish artist and two recent major museum acquisitions. His influence on pre-eminent contemporary figures such as Gerhard Richter is indicative of his importance in the history of 20th-century art.”

Ida in an Interior with Piano, estimated at ú1,000,000-1,500,000* (Danish Krone 8.7 – 13 million), was painted in 1901 in the artist’s apartment at Strandgade 30 in Copenhagen. A masterful evocation of space and light, it depicts the artist’s wife seated at the window of the drawing room of the flat, which they occupied from 1898 until 1909. Unlike surviving photographs of Hammersh°i and Ida in the drawing room at Strandgade, the paintings of their home reveal very little about the couple’s domestic existence. Devoid of sentiment and narrative, they are compositions in tone, light, and silence. The piano, normally associated with room-filling sound, stands silent in the stillness, the player’s stool empty. Ida appears absorbed in her handiwork, yet exactly what she is doing – sewing or darning – is concealed by the side table. Instead, the painting is, to use a term coined by Hammersh°i’s contemporary, the painter James McNeill Whistler, a ‘symphony’ in white and grey, the whole illuminated by the soft directional light from the window as in the paintings of Vermeer which Hammersh°i so admired. Hammersh°i painted this corner of the drawing room in several well-known paintings, always re-arranging the furniture and paintings to arrive at new and interesting compositions.

Estimated at ú800,000-1,000,000 (Danish Krone 7 – 8.7 million), Interior with Stove was also painted in the artist’s apartment at Strandgade 30, the setting for the interior scenes for which Hammersh°i is best known. It too depicts his wife Ida – who became his favourite model and is seen here from behind – and was executed in 1909, the final year in which they were based at this address. For Hammersh°i, the rooms became the stage set for exploring his fascination with the play of light over geometric shapes. He re-visited this room in particular in several of his paintings, re-arranging items of furniture and pictures and sometimes, as here – with the exception of a small framed print – removing them altogether. Alongside Ida, the stove in the corner takes on an almost anthropomorphic presence through the absence of any other objects in the room.

Hammersh°i enjoyed a successful career as an artist in his lifetime and his popularity today is unquestioned. After his death in 1916, however, public interest in his work waned. Hammersh°i’s rediscovery dates to the second half of the twentieth century, through the promotion of his work by Poul Vad (1927-2003), a Danish writer who published his first book on the artist in 1957. A succession of international loan exhibitions in the 1980s led to a sequence of monographic shows – including ‘The Poetry of Silence’ at the Royal Academy in London and the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, in 2008-9 – and, most recently, ‘Hammersh°i and Europe’ in Copenhagen and Munich. This 2012 exhibition saw Hammersh°i face to face with James McNeill Whistler and the American artist’s famous ‘Portrait of the Artist’s Mother’, a meeting of equals that confirms the high regard in which the Danish painter is held. In addition, two interiors depicting the artist’s home at Strandgade 30 were acquired last year by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and the Stńdel Museum, Frankfurt, respectively.

Hammersh°i’s aesthetic is timeless, taking inspiration from the past, attuned to artistic currents in his own time, and anticipating the future. His subtle observation of light and choice of subject matter is indebted to the Dutch seventeenth-century master Johannes Vermeer, whose work he would have seen when he travelled to Holland in 1887. The sense of seclusion and introspection in Hammersh°i's paintings is central to turn-of-the-century Symbolism, of which Hammersh°i is now regarded as a leading exponent. In his observation of light and space he was influenced by Whistler, whose work he first saw when exhibiting two of his own paintings at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889. Hammersh°i's influence, in turn, can be felt in the works of later artists, including Edward Hopper, Ida Lorentzen and Gerhard Richter.

Interior with Stove, which comes to the market from a Private Scandinavian Collection, has a provenance and exhibition history notable for its international scope. By 1918, just two years after the artist’s death, it had found its way into the collection of Paul Warburg in New York, and the painting remaining in the US until the time of the major Hammersh°i retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in 1997 in which it was included. More recently, it featured in the 2008-9 retrospective at the Royal Academy in London and the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo. Ida in an Interior with Piano comes to the market from a Private European Collection. Both works will be offered for sale in Sotheby’s auction of 19th Century European Paintings.

*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium and prices achieved include the hammer price plus buyer’s premium.

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