'It’s not about looking onto a view, but about capturing the abstract quality of light.'
Maria Speaks on Interior Looking out on the Exterior by Hammershøi
‘As someone who spends most of my time thinking about buildings and their interiors, I love Hammershøi’s work for its calm, controlled balance and the way it explores space and light. There’s a haunting stillness. Windows, especially internal, are a minor obsession of mine and, here, it’s not about looking onto a view, but about capturing the abstract quality of light. I understand the British comfort that comes from clutter, but my Danish roots aspire to calm.’
Maria Speake co-founded the salvage company Retrouvius and runs its architectural design studio
John McEwen comments on the painting
The poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote: ‘Hammershøi is not one of those about whom one must speak quickly. His work is long and slow.’ No surprise to hear that his favourite city was London at its most wintry. It is also understandable that he admired Whistler, painter of Symphonies and Nocturnes.
Vilhelm Hammershøi’s most obvious debt was to Vermeer and the 17th-century Dutch masters of tranquil interiors, as well as to the early-19th-century Danish Golden Age (Eckersburg, Købke, the sculptor Thorvaldsen), with its art of quietude aligned with the parallel clarity of neo- Classical architecture. Hammershøi was the son of a rich Copenhagen merchant.
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His mother recognised his artistic talent early and promoted it untiringly for almost the whole of his life. Private tuition from the age of eight determined his career. As a teenage art student, he worked from 8.30am to 4pm, when he had supper at home, and then from 5.30pm to 7.30pm. Obsession suited him, his shy and reticent nature mirrored in his art. A tutor reported: ‘I have a pupil who paints most oddly. I do not understand him, but I believe he is going to be important and do not try and influence him.’
He was right. Hammershøi, for all his reclusiveness, did achieve international fame, but it did not survive his death. It was in the 1980s that a Minimalist-inclined age rediscovered him. His first London retrospective (Royal Academy, 2008) was entitled ‘The Poetry of Silence’, which epitomises his most popular paintings: interiors of Strandgade 30, Copenhagen, the house he rented and where he lived in a childless marriage until new ownership forced departure in 1908. Today, it is still privately owned.
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