Vilhelm Hammershøi at the Exposition Universelle of 1889


  • Jan D. Cox


Hammershøi, Exposition Universelle, Danish Art, Nineteenth Century, Vermeer, Maes, Ter Borch, Hirschsprung, Madsen, Bramsen


In 1889, Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916) exhibited for the first time outside Scandinavia, contributing four of the 190 oil paintings that Denmark sent to the Exposition Universelle in Paris, where he was awarded a bronze medal. There has been some confusion, with five extant paintings being proposed for the four pictures that were catalogued and exhibited. These five pictures are:

Portrait of a Young Woman. The Artist's Sister, Anna Hammershøi, 1885, Hirschsprung Collection, Copenhagen. This picture was not exhibited in Paris, but was entered for the Neuhaus prize in Denmark, where its lack of success caused an outcry, and was instrumental in provoking the foundation of Den Frie Udstilling in 1891. In contrast to scholarship that suggests works by Christen Købke as a likely role model, I propose an earlier Portrait of the Artist's Sister (1847) by Julius Exner.

Étude: A Baker's Shop (En Bagerbutik), 1888, Vejen Kunstmuseum. Catalogue number 44 at the 1889 Exposition Universelle. Evidence is provided to confirm that the work exhibited in Paris as Étude is A Baker's Shop. Its radical nature is discussed, and proposes links to modern artists like Mondrian, Rothko and Malevich, as well as Gerhard ter Borch and Caspar David Friedrich.

Vielle Femme: An Old Woman (En Gammel Kone), 1886, Hirschsprung Collection, Copenhagen. Catalogue number 45 at the 1889 Exposition Universelle. The removal of all extraneous narrative elements by Hammershøi is analysed, as are the strong links to 17th-century Dutch art, particularly Gerhard ter Borch.

Jeune Fille: Young Girl Sewing. Anna Hammershøi, the Artist's Sister, 1887 Ordrupgaard, Copenhagen. Catalogue number 46 at the 1889 Exposition Universelle. Links to Dutch art, and its regular motif of depictions of women sewing. Discusses Hammershøi's viewing of significant works by Vermeer in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts and Nicolas Maes in Rotterdam.

Job, 1888, Hirschsprung Collection, Copenhagen. Catalogue number 47 at the 1889 Exposition Universelle. Discusses the reasons for the non-exhibition of this picture since 1889. Dismisses direct links to other versions of Job and instead proposes a link with a statue of the Egyptian god Anubis that is now housed in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek.