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Sotheby's to sell the only known marine work by Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershøi
Vilhelm Hammersh°i, Sun over the Sea, circa 1902. Estimate: ú100,000-150,000. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- Sotheby’s is to offer a painting by Danish artist Vilhelm Hammersh°i that is rare if not unique in the artist’s oeuvre, in the Company’s sale of 19th Century European Paintings on 22 May 2014. Sun over the Sea, estimated at ú100,000-150,000, is one of the only known marines by the artist, and in which he paints directly into the sun. The auction will feature a second painting by Hammersh°i with a maritime subject, The Old Warehouse in Christianshavn (estimate: ú80,000-120,000). Both pictures, from Danish private collections, come to the auction market for the first time.

Claude Piening, Senior Director, Sotheby’s 19th Century European Paintings Department, said: “Hammersh°i’s timeless and quietly understated images continue to cast their spell on today's collectors. For our upcoming sale in May, we are fortunate to be offering two exterior views painted in Copenhagen. Sun over the Sea is an especially exciting rediscovery, arguably the only painting by Hammersh°i to depict not only the open ocean, but the glowing orb of the sun, the source of light in so many of his more familiar interior scenes.”

Nina Wedell-Wedellsborg, Head of Sotheby’s Denmark, continued: “Sun over the Sea and The Old Warehouse belong to the significant body of outdoor views by Hammersh°i, which have been generating strong interest in our sales over recent years. Both are exciting discoveries: the former is unique in the artist’s oeuvre, the latter - formerly in the collection of Hammersh°i’s patron Alfred Bramsen - a smaller version of the iconic painting in the Hamburger Kunsthalle.”

Sun over the Sea, dated to circa 1902, is comparable to Hammersh°i’s signature interior scenes in its masterly evocation of space and light, though the closure and introversion that characterises so much of his output is cast aside here to reveal a vast and sublime vista. The picture leaves much open to interpretation, but it echoes the spiritual connotations of the German Romantic marines and landscapes by Caspar David Friedrich painted a century earlier. Hammersh°i often sought inspiration from the past, most notably from Vermeer in his interiors, and both the German Romantics and Danish Golden painters resonated deeply throughout Scandinavia. At the same time, the painting is extremely modern in its conception, with the uncompromisingly cropped ships and the horizontal tonal layers. In this respect, it is akin to the watery nocturnes of Hammersh°i’s contemporary James McNeill Whistler, an artist whose work he admired but to his great regret never met.

In other paintings by Hammersh°i, the sea is hinted at in the form of masts visible behind high walls, as evident in The Old Warehouse in Christianshavn, which is estimated to bring ú80,000-120,000. Painted in 1909, this is one of two oil studies for a larger composition now in the Hamburger Kunsthalle. It shows the front of the old warehouse at Christianshavn, which stood not far from the artist’s home at Strandgade 30. The hermetic character of the image evokes a mood of haunting mystery: all the doors and windows are closed, and the wall cropped by the edge of the picture obstructs the view to the left. The two masts towering above the wall are the only visual clues to the presence of a canal running alongside the warehouse.

The painting’s first owner was Alfred Bramsen, who became Hammersh°i’s foremost patron. By 1918, he owned over 60 oils, one fifth of the artist’s oeuvre; in 1903, he had sold the majority of his collection of 19th-century European art to museums and public institutions in order to focus exclusively on collecting works by Hammersh°i. Bramsen was the artist’s first biographer, and co-publisher of a catalogue raisonnÚ, as well as the organiser of three one-man exhibitions in Copenhagen.

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