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Ida reading letter

Painting, 1900, 66×59 cm

Description of the artwork «Ida reading letter»

Picture "Ida is reading the letter", written in 1899, was one of the first works that Wilhelm Hammershoy created in an apartment on Strandged Street in Copenhagen. House number 30, where the artist lived with his wife Ida from 1898 to 1909, played a decisive role in the development of his unique aesthetics. Prior to this move, the interiors that the painter depicted were no more valuable than his portraits, architectural and natural landscapes. But the sparsely furnished space on Strandged with uncovered wooden floorboards, perpendicular wall moldings, corner stoves and solid white doors quickly became the central theme of the Danish work. In an effort to display light effects on various surfaces and a human figure, he rearranged the laconic props - tables and chairs, a piano, a sofa. The model he most often served as a spouse.

The silver-gray palette of this work and the absence of sentimentality demonstrate striking similarities with the paintings. James McNeill Whistler... This American post-impressionist had a great influence on Hammershoi, who first saw his colleague's works at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1889 and tried unsuccessfully to meet with him later. Both artists loved to represent women in empty rooms, using a limited range of colors to set the mood of any composition. The posing of the model and the cheesy behavior is reminiscent of Whistler's iconic painting “Arrangement in gray and black №1. Artist's mother (1871). In 1891, the canvas bought the French state, and Hammershoy saw it in the Luxembourg Museum in Paris. In his work, he reinforced the feeling of abstraction, eliminating unnecessary details and relying almost entirely on the play of colors and geometric shapes.

But it's not just Whistler's influence in this scene. Subtle use of light, muted tones and choice of theme indicate the painting "Lady in Blue Reading a Letter" 17th century Dutch master Jan Vermeerthat was a model for Hammershöy. In 1887, the Dane made a trip to Holland, where he saw the work of his predecessor. Comparing the two canvases, one can understand what Hammershöy focused on when creating his own composition. His picture became almost a mirror reflection of Vermeer's work: both women stand in identical postures, their heads bowed over letters, their hair and clothes - despite the more than two hundred year difference - are noticeably similar, the table slightly obscures the figure, and the entire scene is flooded with light from an indirect source.

It is light that plays the most significant role and is the defining element in Hammershöy's compositions. In its interiors “Light is the main subject ... poor Danish winter light, light of gray weather with almost no color, warmth or joy, but richly rich in nuances. It is the light that pours onto the canvas and defines the space ... usually indirect, because Hammershoy, of course, knows that the indirect light is often the most beautiful. ”, Curators Hanne Finsen and Inge Vibeke Rashkou-Nielsen wrote in an essay on the 1981 retrospective exhibition in Copenhagen.

The painting "Ida reads a letter" participated in exhibitions in Copenhagen, London and Hamburg, but since its inception has belonged to private collectors. In June 2012, it was put up for auction at Sotheby's with a preliminary estimate of 500-700 thousand pounds sterling (up to a million US dollars) and caused a sensation when the hammer fell at around 1.7 million pounds sterling (2.6 million dollars) . This result was a clear confirmation that Wilhelm Hammershoy, forgotten after his death in 1916, once again occupies its proper place in the pleiad of Scandinavian genre painters.

Author: Vlad Maslov
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About the artwork

Art form: Painting

Subject and objects: Portrait, Genre scene, Interior

Style of art: Impressionism, Symbolism

Technique: Oil

Materials: Canvas

Date of creation: 1900

Size: 66×59 cm

Artwork in selections: 18 selections