Vilhelm Hammershøi: Portrait of the artist's sister Anna Hammershøi seen from the back. Unsigned. Oil on canvas laid on panel. 38×28 cm.
Portrait of the artist's sister Anna Hammershøi seen from the back. Unsigned. On the reverse certified by the painter's wife Ida Hammershøi: “Malt af Vilh. Hammershøi, attesteres: Ida Hammershøi” (Painted by Vilh. Hammershøi, certified: Ida Hammershøi). Oil on canvas laid on panel. 38×28 cm.
In the profound and newly published book on Hammershøi, the authors describe this motif of the woman with her back turned, which is so characteristic of Hammershøi’s paintings, and they describe the close connection of the subject with contemporary photography, which greatly fascinated Hammershøi, and which he to a large degree used in his works.
“Like the photographers Félex Nadar (1820–1910), Onésipe Aguado de las Marismas (1830–1893) and many other contemporary artists, Hammershøi was interested in motifs with necks and figures with their back turned. The motifs often appear enigmatic because we can get so close without seeing the figure's face. And apparently without the figure seeing us. The neck motifs are particularly oriented towards a sense of desire in a photograph because it includes the awareness of the photographer, who can take the picture while the model cannot see what is going on. Hammershøi transfers this intense photographic situation to for instance his painting…” “The neck is the subconscious part of the face, it is said, but pictures like these deprive themselves of any sort of psychoanalytical interpretations. They are situated in a field between reality and artificiality. The artificial consists of the entirety of the constructed mise-en-scène: it is clear that the artists have determined how the models should pose and turn their back to the viewer. These are not random snapshots, but as viewers, we still often accept the concept since it is seductive and exciting to approach the subject from this angle.” (Annette Rosenvold Hvidt and Gertrud Oelsner, "Vilhelm Hammershøi, på sporet af det åbne billede” (Vilhelm Hammershøi, in search of the open image), 2018, p. 144 (in Danish)).
The motif on this painting – the woman seen from the back – occurs in a number of Hammershøi’s interior paintings.
Provenance: Alfred Bramsen, his daughter the violinist Karen Bramsen and her husband museum director Gustav Falck, thence by descent, until the sale of the collections of Alfred Bramsen and Gustav Falck, Bruun Rasmussen auction 576, 1992 no. 141, reproduced p. 110. Here described as his wife Ida seen from behind, but it is rather the characteristic features of the sister – her smooth hair, ear and neck as seen in other portraits of her by Hammershøi – than those of his wife.
Alfred Bramsen (1857–1932) was actually a dentist, but he is today mainly known as an art collector and more specifically as the patron for and collector of works by Vilhelm Hammershøi. In 1918, he published, together with Sophus Michaëlis, the work “Vilhelm Hammershøi, Kunstneren og hans Værk” (Vilhelm Hammershøi, the Artist and His Work).
Bramsen's works by Hammershøi were inherited by his daughter Karen Bramsen (1877–1970), and she married Gustav Falck (1874–1955). Gustav Falck was an art historian, and in 1925 he became Karl Madsen's successor as director of the National Gallery of Denmark. The museum can thank him for the purchasing of portraits of Tizian and Frans Hals. Falck had a large private collection of an exquisite quality, which in addition to many works by Vilhelm Hammershøi included works by many other artists.
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Vilhelm Hammershøi (b. Copenhagen 1864, d. s.p. 1916)
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