Svend Hammershøi

Svend Hammershøi
(1873 - Copenhagen - 1948)

Motiv fra Rosenborg Have, slottet set mellem træerne -
Rosenborg Castle Obscured by Trees
, mid 1920s[1]

Oil on canvas, 87 x 68,4 cm
Bearing the mark of the Georg Kleis Gallery on the stretcher

Provenance:
Private collection, Denmark


One of the central themes of Svend Hammershøi‘s work was the harmony between architecture and nature – the man-made and the work of God. Rosenborg Castle was an arresting Renaissance building constructed on the outskirts of Copenhagen in 1606. It served as the summer residence of King Christian IV of Denmark.

Set in front of the castle depicted in Hammershøi‘s painting is a group of tall trees. Their leafless branches fan out across the wintry sky forming an intricate web that obscures the view of the castle. The low vantage point creates an impression of monumentality. A damp, misty haze reduces the palette to shades of grey and brown and shrouds foreground objects and the tips of branches. The painting has an unreal, dreamlike quality devoid of human presence and the mood of stillness and melancholy that it evokes is in keeping with the aesthetic of Symbolism. The motif was clearly a source of great fascination for Svend Hammershøi – he returned to it repeatedly over the years.

Hammershøi was an active participant in a burgeoning artistic and intellectual movement which flourished in Copenhagen at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. This thriving artistic climate was actively supported by a number of leading collectors and art galleries, one of which was the George Kleis Gallery - the stretcher of the present painting bears the mark of the gallery. Kleis held selling exhibitions and also dealt in painting materials. In the 1890s, the gallery exhibited work by contemporary Danish painters such as Hammershøi and French artists like Pierre Bonnard, Eduard Vuillard, Paul Sérusier and Emile Bernard. It also hosted Eduard Munch’s first solo exhibition in Copenhagen in 1893.[2]

Svend, who lived with his sister and his mother in Frederiksberg, Copenhagen, was the younger brother of Denmark’s most important symbolist painter, Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-Copenhagen-1916). After their mother died in 1914 the siblings, both unmarried, continued living in the same apartment in Frederiksberg. Svend enrolled in the painting class at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in 1890. Two years later he changed to the Kunstnernes Frie Studieskoler[3] [Free Art School]. There, he studied under Kristian Zahrtmann until 1897. In addition to painting, Svend Hammershøi also had an interest in ceramics. He produced designs both for the Kongelige Pocelainsfabrik and for the well-established firms of Bing & Grøndahl and Herman A. Kähler, where works based on his designs are still being manufactured to this day. His breakthrough came when his work was staged by the Georg Kleis Gallery in 1892. A year later, he was commissioned to illustrate the symbolist magazine Taarnet [the tower]. From 1895 to 1909 he participated in group exhibitions with other symbolist painters at Den Frie Udstilling[4] [The Free Exhibition]. He was a member of an artists’ colony named ‘Hellenerne’ on the Resnaes peninsula from 1895 to 1903. His work focused primarily on themes drawn from ancient and Nordic history and to a lesser extent, the ideals of the Greeks. After the death of his friend and mentor, the noted architect and fellow ceramist Thorvald Bindesbøl in 1908, he abandoned ceramics to focus instead on painting. His first solo exhibition was staged at the Kunstforeningen in Copenhagen in 1909. He was awarded a number of prizes and awards both for his paintings and his ceramics. In 1910, a grant enabled him to spend four years in England where he made drawings and paintings after Gothic architecture in Wells and Oxford. He returned to England again between the wars, exhibiting at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in London and at Ryman’s Galleries in Oxford in 1929. He also exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1931.[5]


Fig. 1 Vilhelm Hammershøi, Svend Hammershøi, 1892, oil on canvas, 55 x 46 cm, Ordrupgaard Museum, Denmark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] See Tove Jørgensen, Svend Hammershøi 1873-1948 Maler og formgiver, Museet på Koldinghus, 1990. Jørgensen cites Svend Hammershøi's diaries and the paintings that Hammershøi mentions working on. Hammershøi would usually note down the location or viewpoint, however none of the Rosenborg paintings show the building from the north-east, the viewpoint of the present work. The only possible work mentioned is a painting dating from April-May 1924 which he describes as Motiv fra Rosenborg Have, slottet set mellem træerne [... the castle seen between the trees].

[2] Hubert van den Berg (ed.) A Cultural History of the Avant-Garde in the Nordic Countries 1900-1925, London 2012, p. 301.

[3] The Kunstnernes Frie Studieskoler was an art school established in Copenhagen in 1882 as a protest against the policies of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and to provide an alternative to its educational program.

[4] This famous exhibition was modelled on the Paris ‘Salon des Refusés’ and organized by Danish artists with good contacts to the Parisian art world. The exhibition showed work by the most radical French painters of the time such as Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh.

[5]Hammershøi und Europa, exhib. cat., Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, Munich 2012,
pp. 224-5.

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