Visiting Vilhelm Hammershoi and Danish Painting of the 19th Century

A friend of mine from Hawai’i came to Japan to visit her family and we decided to check out the Vilhelm Hammershøi Exhibition at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum

Starting on the Lobby Floor with the Skagen Movement, many of the artworks look so very similar to everyday life in Great Lakes farming communities. I saw several pieces that I’m sure I’ve seen as prints in various homes I visited as a child. The North Sea being shown as rocky sometimes, as sandy beaches in others, all reminded me of The Great Lakes I frequented. I really enjoyed most of the paintings for evoking interesting memories from my childhood. There is one with a rutted dirt lane and a very distinctive brown and white cow that looks so very real that it could walk out of the painting.

With striking light blue walls that really helped the Skagen School paintings pop, I loved seeing the various shades of blue in the paintings; such as the ocean waves crashing onto shore in Launching the Boat; Skagen.

Another bold strategy on the next floor was to use a warm pink-peach on the walls that really highlighted the flowering trees and the warmth of family as seen in many of the paintings. Many of the museums I visited in Europe have strategically painted walls and it was the first time I’ve seen it done here in Japan. I hope they continue to do so.

A spectacularly large piece showed a family around a Christmas tree with lit candles on the tree itself exactly like a holiday card. Really gorgeous work with a lot of detail. I do wish the museum would have let us take photographs.

My affinity for textiles extends into my reviews of artworks with textiles in other mediums. I have seen amazing paintings that show every single stitch in a textile and each lace thread in a collar. I’ve seen ukiyo-e woodblock printings with expressive printed fabric folds, drapings, and patterns. And chainmail as brilliantly depicted as the day it was made on paintings in Italy.

Unfortunately, this Danish exhibition has none of that style of painting. I searched for detailed textile work in each painting I passed. Several paintings specifically depicted a woman or a young girl knitting, sewing, or darning. Such as portrayed in Marinus Rorbye’s The Surgeon Christian Fenger with Wife and Daughter and Anna Ancher’s Young Girl Working on her Sewing in the Doorway of a House.

Yet, it was difficult to know what they were actually stitching. Nor was a specific pattern legible. I was so disappointed to not be able to see any discernible stitching pattern. Neither rugs nor tablecloths escaped this ambiguity. We would have loved to have had an insight into popular stitch patterns of the day.

My friend and I are both knitters and we did like being able to see the ruggedness of the fishermen’s sweaters where many of them sported a few holes here or there as shown in Oscar Bjørck’s Launching the Boat. Skagen. In another painting, it looked like a woman was darning a knitted item, most likely a fisherman’s sweater, but again, the detail work was missing in the textiles.

What may have been lacking in textile details, was found in how the subject’s faces were beautifully, intricately rendered. From the young to the hardened North Sea fishermen.

My favorite piece of the whole exhibition is Peder Severin Krøyer’s Summer Evening at the South Beach, Skagen. Anna Ancher and Marie Krøyer. His ability to render light is amazing. The cool, beautiful, light blues of the sky, meeting the similarly cool, light blues of the ocean washing ashore on the sandy beach touched by the last, warm rays of the setting sun.

Note that Anne Ancher is the painter of the previously mentioned painting of a young girl sewing.

Another piece to catch my eye was Georg Achen’s The Yellow Bureau. Interior with a Young Girl. I was immediately struck by the accuracy of the reflections on the glass of the framed paintings. The reflections off the brightly polished bureau, and then the stunning quality of the woodwork in the bureau. This would have been an amazing advertisement for the maker of the bureau. Its beauty dominates the room but the young girl is not outdone by it. With the young girl reaching for something within it she is a lovely action to juxtapose to the bureau’s solid strength.

We realized that many of the paintings we saw in the Hammershøi Exhibition we can easily see these same scenes, these exact rooms, in so many homes today. They have such a calm, lovely, realistic view of home to them. We have seen many rooms similar to Vilhelm Hammershøi’s In the Bedroom, scroll across our Instagram feeds. Same with his beautifully balanced Interior with Young Woman Seen from Behind.

The gift shop offers a plethora of postcards as we were not allowed to take photographs. I did pick up a great little blank book with lovely tones of greys. It reminded me that many of the paintings had the warm grey cast about them which I have seen in many Danish television shows and movies.

I highly recommend checking out the Vilhelm Hammershøi and Danish Painting of the 19th Century Exhibition currently on view at Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art in Ueno.
Through Thursday, March 26, 2020 in Tokyo.

Starting April 7 it will be showing in Yamaguchi through June 7th.

For additional information and a chance to see more of his work, check out the BBC Michael Palin Hammershøi video on YouTube

Note: Japanese museums are quite strict in their viewing policies beyond the usual no eating, no drinking policies:
No photography nor sketching materials are allowed. So sadly there are no photographs of any of the work. Just photos of the postcards and a grey-toned paper blank notebook I picked up in the gift shop.

Published by Studio Deanna

Metals + Fibers + Writing