Vilhelm Hammershoi painting
‘Interior with an Easel, Bredgade 25’, a 1912 painting by Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershøi that has been acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

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The sparse but carefully orchestrated composition depicting the artist’s apartment in Copenhagen had appeared at Christie’s New York in October. Estimated at $1.5m-2m, it sold at $5.04m (£3.94m) including premium. The Getty has confirmed that it acquired the work from New York dealership Jack Kilgore & Co following the sale at Christie’s.

The price for Interior with an Easel, Bredgade 25 from 1912 was the second highest at auction for Hammershøi. Commercially it stands only behind an earlier work from 1901, Interior with woman at piano, strandgade 30 that made $6.21m (£4.74m) at Sotheby’s New York in November 2017.

Market growth

The price made at Christie’s followed strong growth at the top end of the artist’s market over recent years. This has, in part, been pushed by the salerooms – Sotheby’s record picture had been offered an Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction for the first time alongside works by the likes of Paul Cézanne and Edgar Degas.

But the greater demand also reflects more international interest in an artist whose works previously appealed primarily to domestic buyers.

After Hammershøi’s death aged 51, his work fell into relative obscurity and, for much of the 20th century, he was scarcely known outside of Denmark.

However, exhibitions in Europe, Asia and the US – such as the Hammershøi retrospective at London’s Royal Academy in 2008-9 which later travelled to the Museum of Western Art in Tokyo – have brought him back to public attention. These shows have also emphasised how the modern appeal of the artist’s sober palette and compositional economy, as well as how his handling of light evokes Dutch golden age painting.

The fact that the Getty Museum has now purchased a picture is a significant moment for the market – a major international institution making naturally adds kudos and ‘curatorial approval’.

Senior curator of paintings at the Getty Museum Davide Gasparotto said: “Hammershøi is one of Denmark’s most fascinating painters and the renewed interest and scholarship that his work is now receiving is well overdue.”

“The modern Vermeer”?

Director of the J. Paul Getty Museum Timothy Potts said: “We are delighted to be able to add this extraordinary work by one of the most important Scandinavian artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries to our collection.

“Hammershøi clearly saw himself in the tradition of old master painters (he is often touted as ‘the modern Vermeer’), and I am sure visitors will see many resonances with our paintings by other great northern European artists, such as Caspar David Friedrich, Fernand Khnopff, and Edvard Munch.”

Gasparotto added: “Interior with an Easel, Bredgade 25 is a work of great power and stark beauty, mesmerizing in its sense of stillness and silence. All the elements of a great Hammershøi are here: the masterful rendering of the cool Nordic light, the exquisitely nuanced tonal harmonies, the geometric rigor of the planar composition, the shimmering weave of small, textured brushstrokes – all working to transfigure the mundane into something haunting and poetic.”