When a promotional email from the AGO, announcing an upcoming exhibit by Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershoi, hit my inbox last month, I knew his paintings were something I very much wanted to see in person. While I’d never heard of this Copenhagen based artist, who lived between the years 1864 to 1916 — sadly dying of cancer at only 52 — the glimpses of his work included on their site confirmed that his paintings were a must-see for me. So, when my friend Meghan invited me to join her at the gallery members’ preview of the show, I was happy to accept.
To familiarize myself with what I was about to see, I watched this hour-long BBC Documentary program called The Mystery of Hammershoi with Michael Palin, who had a so-called obsession with this artist (described here).
In the program, Palin went about discovering all that he could about this elusive artist. The search was a somewhat challenging one, in that very little is known about the man, who seemed to have little desire to reveal anything about himself, other than what one could glean by looking at his paintings. He never kept a journal and burned all his personal letters and papers before he died.
(In addition to filling me in on the work of Hammershoi, with looks at the very rooms and places depicted in his paintings, the documentary left me with a great desire to visit Copenhagen. It really looks like a beautiful and interesting city.)
The repeated subject matter of the artist’s work, which include images of his wife Ida, oftentimes seen from the back, and the interiors of the two homes he lived in as an adult, (which happened to be located directly across the street from one another), seem to indicate he was a shy introvert who didn’t venture far from home. However he did, in fact, travel fair distances within Europe, and is said to have particularly liked London for its foggy weather and the smoggy atmosphere, that would have been the result of the extensive burning of coal for heat at the time.
His choice to use a very limited and muted colour pallet, primarily consisting of blacks and browns, resulted in mysterious scenes that draw the viewer in …
Upon Hammershoi’s death, his primary patron and friend, a successful dentist named Alfred Bramson, donated 28 of his paintings to the Danish National Gallery. But about 20 years later, sometime in the 1930s, the gallery returned them deeming that his work had gone out of style. They were then sold to private collectors, contributing to the reason that his striking work is so little known.
They certainly must regret that decision today, considering that each is worth over $2 million.
Nowadays, national galleries are actively purchasing his paintings and putting them on display to be shared with the public, which is a main reason why this exhibit is currently going on in Toronto — the Art Gallery of Ontario has recently acquired one, called “Interior with Four Etchings”, painted in 1905, written about in this article.
Of course, it takes pride of place within the show. They’ve even set up a charming spot for visitors to take a photograph, where they appear to be immersed in the scene …
After seeing the Hammershoi exhibit, we had some time to wander around before the second special draw to the gallery on this particular evening.
As mentioned when writing about a previous Friday evening spent at the AGO (seen here), they offer extra features during their weekly AGO Friday Nights event, including a lounge and wine-bar set up in the beautiful Walker Court, with musical performances.
We checked out the recently set up Pop Art area, where Meghan posed with the giant hamburger. Pretty well anyone who grew up around the city has seen this piece, Claes Oldenburg’s Floor Burger, created in 1962, as a visit to the art gallery was a common school trip, and the hamburger was a memorable part of such trips. It’s actually recently back on display after a restoration that took a few years to complete. (You can read about it here.)
I couldn’t resist a quick shot with Andy Warhol’s Elvis …
I didn’t get the details as to what was going on in this salon, but it involved an opera performance amoungst the art, which was pretty neat …
We were very keen to hear French Canadian composer and pianist Jean-Michel Blais perform, so made sure we were at Walker Court in plenty of time to get a good seat. Meghan is a self-proclaimed piano-nerd and asked if I minded if we sat in the closest seats available, from where we could clearly see his hands. I had no problem with that.
She got us a glass of red wine, which we enjoyed while watching the room fill up. We talked about her trip to Paris, from which she had just returned the preceding Monday.
Jean-Michel played each song from his recently released album, Jean-Michel Blais II, in succession, and then closed the show with a few pieces that weren’t on the recording.
Meghan recorded this video of his first song.
He is a wonderful and very charismatic musician, who kept the room enthralled for the hour long performance. Walker Court has a glass ceiling, so the sun set as the music played. We left somewhat awestruck.
After the gallery, we headed over to Chinatown for a bowl of Pho. Then we walked home on an evening that teased of the warm weather to come.
The Vilhelm Hammershoi exhibit will be on display until June 26, 2016 and The Pop Art area is an ongoing part of the gallery. Both are included with general admission, which means it’s free to see on Wednesday evenings. If you’re in the city, you should go!
Thanks very much for checking out my post. Hope your week is off to a great start.