Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Intriguing interiors

All around London at the moment are advertisements on the tube and on the buses promoting an exhibition of Wilhelm Hammershøi's paintings. It's the other exhibition on just now at the Royal Academy along with the summer show and they have called this exhibition The poetry of silence.

I admit that I have not heard of this artist before but I found the image that has been used for the advertising intriguing and seductive. Something about the image reminded me of the work by Gwen John (1876-1939). She was the sister of the artist Augustus John who led a colourful life and painted exuberant images of the women in his life amongst other subjects. By contrast Gwen John's paintings are quiet, atmospheric and introspective.

Hammershøi (1864-1916) was a Danish artist who was born into a comfortable middle class home and led an uneventful life until his relatively early death from cancer. He travelled extensively around Europe but it is the paintings he made of his domestic life at home in Copenhagen which made the biggest impact on me. Sometimes he would paint an empty room with open doors leading the eye out of the room and towards a different, unknown part of his apartment. Often he would include a female figure, perhaps sewing or darning or holding a tray or maybe playing the piano. And he obviously had a bit of a thing for people's back views because there are quite a few on display - maybe it saved him from having to chat to his subjects.

In one painting there is a figure is at the far end of a room leaning with one knee on a chair and gazing out of the window. I was dying to know what she was looking at and listening to but as a silent observer I will never know. His images are always very carefully composed and I had the odd feeling that far from merely looking at these paintings I was actually inside the rooms with him and enveloped by the heavy, silent atmosphere he'd created which was emphasised by the restricted pallette he employed.
By the time I left the exhibition I felt I almost knew what it's like to wear a long grey dress and wear my hair tied back in a bun and move around slowly. This wasn't an exhibition to rush round in a hurry - the images wouldn't let you. The experience was more like being a contemplative in an enclosed order and taking a stroll around the cloisters last thing at night. Very powerful.


jacqui said...

I can why you saw the similarity to Gwen John's work. Its not known if John actually met Hammershøi but she would have known of his work and he of her work as he became friends with Ida Nettleship. I have been a fan of Gwen John's work since before art college and saw one of her works in the Tate. "Gwen John" by Alicia Foster, is by far the best book on her and her work.

I love your description of the summer show and when I lived in London when each year. It is interesting to see the red dots in any gallery show and sometimes leaves you wondering why?

MartaSzabo said...

Hi Heather, wow, I got way behind! Just tuned in & read your last 3 posts. Totally great. I just love reading your stuff. Hope we meet one day! Marta