Interior with artificial light. Two lit candles on a table. 1904. Unsigned. Oil on canvas. 52×37.5.
Alfred Bramsen, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of Vilhelm Hammershøi “Vilhelm Hammershøi. Kunstneren og hans værk”, 1918, no. 258 with the following title and the description (in Danish):
“Artificial light. Preliminary work for no. 257. “Møntsamleren” (The Coin Collector). On a brown table are two lit candles in silver-plated candlesticks, the flames of the candles are reflected in the dark pane of the back wall.”
Susanne Meyer-Abich, A Catalogue Raisonnè of the Works of Vilhelm Hammershøi in “Vilhelm Hammershøi: Das Malerische Werk", 1995, no. 248.
Exhibited: Kunstforeningen, “Fortegnelse over arbejder af Vilhelm Hammershøi”, 1916, 2. section, no. 30.
Provenance: Eva Ilsted, the daughter of the artist's brother-in-law, Peter Ilsted. Thence by descent until today.
The present painting is one of three preliminary works for "The Coin Collector“ from 1904 (Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo, Inv. nr. NG.M.02273).
Hammershøi has used this motif, with two lit candles in a pair of candlesticks, placed slightly staggered with one behind the other, in several different important works. In addition to “The Coin Collector”, he also uses the motif in paintings such as “Five Portraits” (The Thiel Gallery, Stockholm) and “Interior. Artificial Light” (The National Gallery of Denmark Inv. no. KMS8677).
In all the above works, the two lit candles and their placement play a key role in the lighting, colours and composition of the paintings.
The fact that Hammershøi used the two candles in very similar placements in several different works also tells us something about Hammershøi's modus operandi. He repeated and reused many different recurring elements in many of his works.
The interior in this painting is from Strandgade 30, where several of Hammershøi's most famous interiors are from.
Poul Vad writes about this room in connection with “The Coin Collector”: “Here in this very room, Hammershøi could unite the reflection of the lights in the dark windowpane ....”. (Poul Vad, “Hammershøi. Værk og liv” (Artwork and Life), 1988, p. 234). Poul Vad continues in his characterization of “The Coin Collector”: “The night is a physical reality that visual art can depict. Night and loneliness belong together: the night also has a psychological dimension here, it is a visualization of the hidden, secretive, unconscious, melancholia and death. In his preoccupation with this motif, Hammershøi probes these depths, but without pointing to them. His discretion is as great as his courage to go right up to the edge.” (p. 234).
This work thus represents several of Hammershøi's very central themes: the melancholy, the enigmatic, the absence, the timelessness, the loneliness – a work completely void of narrative and characterized solely by light, darkness and silence.