(b. Copenhagen 1864, d. s.p. 1916)
Landscape from Dunkebakke, Frederiksværk. Unsigned. Oil on canvas. 55×65 cm.
FROM THE COLLECTION OF J.E. SAFRA
Susanne Meyer-Abich, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of Vilhelm Hammershøi in “Vilhelm Hammershøi: Das Malerische Werk”, 1995, no. 245.
Ordrupgaard, “Vilhelm Hammershøi - en retrospektiv udstilling”, 1981 no. 103, reproduced p. 131, with the title 'Landskab. Studie'.
Wildenstein, New York and The Philips Collection, Washington, “Hammershøi. Painter of Stillness and Light”, 1983 no. 65, reproduced p. 76, with the title 'Landscape sketch'.
Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, München, “Hammershøi and Europa”, 2012, reproduced p. 245.
Poul Vad, “Hammershøi. Værk og Liv”, 1988, mentioned p. 256, reproduced p. 283.
Poul Vad, “Hammershøi and Danish Art at the Turn of the Century”, 1992, reproduced p. 283.
Barrister Peter Olufsen.
Gerda og Peter Olufsen (1981,1983).
Kunsthallen Kunstauktioner, Copenhagen, auction 497, 1998 no. 103, reproduced p. 45. Here acquired by the present owner.
Barrister Peter Olufsen (1891–1972) was married to Kamma Sophie Ilsted (1894–1928), who was the daughter of Vilhelm Hammershøi's very good friend and brother-in-law Peter Ilsted. The painting was passed on to his son Peter Olufsen (1919–1997), who was married to Gerda Pullen Ullman.
“I have mostly painted interiors ... How did I end up doing this? ... It's difficult to say. It just happened. And it is fashionable right now, everyone wants interiors, they hardly want anything else. When I paint a landscape, I usually can't sell it.” (Interview with Vilhelm Hammershøi in the Danish magazine “Hver 8. Dag”, 1907).
As the quote above shows, the interior was already Hammershøi's most popular and sought-after motif during his own lifetime. Therefore, Hammershøi's name is inseparably linked to the simple, poetic and grey-toned interior, which provides a quiet enigmatic insight into the soul of human existence, and as such the painter is recognized as one of the most central figures of Symbolism at the turn of the century.
But Hammershøi also painted landscapes throughout his life, and the landscape constitutes a large and important part of his oeuvre. They were often painted during one of his and his wife Ida's summer holidays around Denmark. This includes the painting here of the landscape at Dunkebakke, which was painted in 1904, while the couple during the summer lived in a small house at Arresødal near Frederiksværk in North Zealand. An area that inspired several of Hammershøi’s landscapes.
The style of the artist’s landscapes originates from the Danish golden age tradition, as we know it from artists such as Peter Christian Skovgaard, Christen Købke and Johan Thomas Lundbye. Hammershøi had been a student of Vilhelm Kyhn and Frederik Rohde, both landscape painters trained during the Danish golden age. But in contrast to the golden age's classic depiction of the landscape with a foreground, middle ground and background in a spatial progression in the perspective, often illustrated by a path or road that leads us into the fictional deeper space of the painting, Hammershøi's landscapes are instead parallel-plane compositions, focusing on the middle ground.
“Instead of painting the intensely emotional but unsentimental connection to the landscape on the canvas, he portrayed the dual experience of intense feeling and insurmountable distance; and instead of painting the foreground and the background in the successive progression into the space of the landscape, he left out everything that could draw attention to the foreground and focused sharply on the middle ground; he based the image on the dialectic between the measurable extent of the horizontal plane (from edge to edge of the frame) and the immeasurable deep space of the air (and the sky)”. (Poul Vad p. 152).
In this landscape, the foreground is completely naked. The colours are delicate green-brown and transparent. The foreground rises as an empty, slightly diffuse, impenetrable barrier in front of the viewer – there is no friendly path that leads us into the landscape. On the contrary, we are kept at a distance and on the outside. In the middle ground, the landscape takes shape. Three hilltops, slightly offset, form a hilly progression across the canvas from edge to edge of the frame, forming a curving horizontal line parallel to the surface of the painting. A distinctive Danish landscape profile. Above this, an infinitely large sky opens up in grey-white shades in the upper half of the image. In profile against this open space, the work's few trees stand as vertical markers and a link between earth and the sky in an otherwise completely empty landscape.
“Hammershøi transferred the use of the parallel-plane known from interior paintings and figure compositions to the landscape motifs, but he combined it with the experience of the depth of the sky and the open space. He made the foreground – which is without any details – blurred, almost tactile; and only as the gaze moves into the depths of the landscape, do we see things compress: the deeper we go, the clearer the landscape becomes … The blurred foreground nullifies the experience of the landscape as a sensual intrusive, physical reality: there is distance or even a void between the viewer and the middle ground, which in turn appears clear and distinct: every tree is an individuality…” (Paul Vad pp. 154–155).
Trees appear in almost all of Hammershøi’s landscapes. Sometimes trunks and branches fill the entire canvas as in “Tree Trunks; Arresødal, Frederiksværk” (The National Gallery of Denmark) from 1904 and from the same summer holiday as this painting was made on. Many other times the trees form a long straight row parallel to the surface of the image, as in “Landscape from the King's Road at Gentofte” (The David Collection). Or as in the present painting, where a few single trees stand, like modest accents on top of the hills in the slightly hilly landscape. Often – as in this painting – there is a thin membrane of unpainted canvas around the trees, which both makes the appearance of the trees very concrete and provides them an ethereal intangibility.
Hammershøi often began his landscapes en plein air – often with a fine underdrawing in pencil, as can be seen in “Road Near Gentofte Lake” (private collection). On top of the underdrawing, he often painted a very thin transparent coat of paint, in delicate tinted colours, through which the canvas can often be glimpsed or seen quite clearly. Both are present in this study, which gives us an important and interesting insight into Hammershøi’s method. The work is most likely painted en plein air at Dunkebakke. The composition is delicately drawn, and the thin coat of paint applied in endless shades of white, grey, brown and green. At first, Hammershøi wanted to place the line of the horizon roughly in the middle of the painting, but in the same way, as he sometimes might shift the canvas of his interiors, so that the framing of the motif ended up different than originally conceived – in the same way as a photographer works with his motif – Hammershøi has here left a band of naked unpainted canvas along the lower edge, whereby he, in the painting process itself, has lowered the line of the horizon and made the open sky larger at the expense of the landscape. At the same time, the subject becomes smaller in height but not in width, and thus Hammershøi emphasizes in Poul Vad's words “the dialectic between the measurable extent of the horizontal plane (from edge to edge of the frame) and the immeasurably deep space of the air (and sky)”.