AT HOME: Hammershøi | Leslie Hossack
September 3 to October 10, 2021
Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916) was born in Copenhagen and lived there his entire life. His oeuvre consists of portraits, nudes, landscapes, architecture and interiors, but it is his interiors that continue to draw the strongest response.
When I first stood before his paintings, I was transfixed. I was besotted. I was smitten. Why? I instantly identified with Hammershøi. I saw my work when I looked at his work. His paintings and my photographs spoke the same visual language. Viewing his interiors is an intimate experience. One enters his private home, moves around his physical space, and then slowly encounters one’s own soul. Hammershøi projected his inner world onto his canvases and there I met him. It was a somewhat narcissistic experience. I had the sense that we both suffered from the same “interiority” complex.
In total, in various museums, I have photographed 100 works by Vilhelm Hammershøi that are held in over 20 public and private collections in North America and Europe. These 100 photographs make up one of the streams of my series AT HOME: Hammershøi. While in Copenhagen, I also photographed locations where he lived, studied and worked, as well as architectural landmarks that he had painted in his hometown.
Architectural works by Hammershøi resonate deeply with me. I have been photographing iconic structures in European capitals for over a decade. My work is interpretive, not documentary. I strive to create images that resemble architectural drawings: the building centred in the composition, the light even, the lines parallel, the palette soft and the view of the principal façade unobstructed. Thus, I feel a deep kinship with Hammershøi’s architectural works.
My intention is to fashion images that reveal what I believe the architects originally designed. I feel compelled to take historic buildings back to a specific moment in time - to set the stage for the protagonist to enter. In post-production, I remove people as well as the chaos and clutter of contemporary life. My process is subtractive. I compose the scene within the frame of the camera; I remove unwanted elements in post-production; and finally, I may crop the image. Hammershøi was very aware of the photographic process. As a painter, he would start by composing the scene within the frame of his canvas, and then he would paint in the elements that he wanted to appear in the work. His process was additive. He did not need to remove people and clutter after the fact. However, he often cropped the finished piece by wrapping part of the painted canvas around the back of the frame, hiding elements he wished to eliminate.
Inspired by Vilhelm Hammershøi’s artistic process, aesthetic and motifs, I photographed the interior of our home in Ottawa. Recreating the intimacy, silence and light found in his interiors, came naturally to me. However, before photographing my home, I made a set of guidelines, based on Hammershøi’s interiors. “Work from a seated position. Include little of the ceiling, more of the floor. Set the stage. Arrange the furniture. Position chairs flat against the wall. Select/place props. Feature objects you already own and enjoy. Use the same tables/chairs/dishes/books repeatedly. Rearrange paintings hanging on the wall. (I used framed pieces of my own work in each composition.) Consider every door: open/closed, with/without hardware. Determine whether movement in the picture will be through an open passage or blocked. Treat the sunlight on the wall/floor as the main character in the room.”
Vilhelm Hammershøi’s wife Ida was his muse, model and artistic collaborator. I believe her role has been underrepresented and misunderstood. Vilhelm always had his studio in their apartment, and constantly rearranged the furniture to create compositions for his interiors. I have no doubt that Ida would have been involved in, and consulted about, this staging process. Also, when she modeled for his interior paintings, Ida surely made suggestions about her costume and pose. I have dedicated this body of work, AT HOME: Hammershøi, to Ida.