Hammershøi’s landscapes are both sober and dreamlike. Landscapes were depicted in a great many different ways at the time, ranging from de-romanticised landscapes to scenes laden with symbolic significance. Hammershøi occupies a position somewhere between the two.
Trunks in a structure
Hammershøi’s drawing of oak trunks has an underlying square grid. The drawing is a preliminary study for the painting Near Fortunen, Jægersborg Deer Park, where a corresponding pencil grid can be discerned underneath the paint. Hammershøi made the following statement about his choice of subject matter:
"What makes me choose a given motif is chiefly its lines; what I would term the architectural structure of the image. And the light, of course. Naturally, the light is important, too, but I almost find myself loving the lines the most."
Having applied a structure underneath his landscapes Hammershøi would paint in some rather more diffuse layers across the painting; the foregrounds in particular are misty and veiled. This gives rise to subtle effects of the light and evokes a dreamlike mood.
The open vistas
In addition to tree trunks Hammershøi also depicted a different kind of landscape: the very open vistas from e.g. Refsnæs and Lejre. Here, the landscapes mainly consist of sky and have an almost over-lit and condensed feel. The paintings appear limitless, yet also as stringently cropped sections devoid of people or narrative detail. No path leads into the paintings; the lines all run parallel to the picture plane.
Landscape painting in Hammershøi's days
In Hammershøi’s day the art of landscape painting showed great variety in the way it depicted nature. Overall, landscapes were used as a phenomenon that could serve to raise awareness of how the senses perceive things. The landscapes featured at the exhibition represent a selection of the different approaches taken during the period.
Dissolving the motif
Some artists – such as Valdemar Schønheyder Møller – worked with sunlight as an absolute, symbolically charged main motif, while others – e.g. Georges Seurat – created landscapes out of countless little brushstrokes that, together, lead to optical effects. Two different approaches to dissolving the chosen subject matter.
Hammershøi’s works position themselves somewhere in between these two poles, i.e. between the symbolic and the de-romanticised. His images of nature are stringently composed, yet also dreamlike – particularly due to his misty, smoky mode of painting.