What these Enigmatic Artworks Teach Me About Solitude

The power of Vilhelm Hammershøi’s paintings

Christopher P Jones
5 min readJan 18, 2024

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Interior with Young Woman from Behind (1904) by Vilhelm Hammershøi. Oil on canvas. 60.5 × 50.5 cm. Randers Museum of Art, Denmark. Image source Wikimedia Commons

Some artists paint in order to add spectacle and drama to the world; others use their art to add silence.

Vilhelm Hammershøi was one of the latter.

Hammershøi invested so much meaning in the quietude of an empty room. His paintings consist of half-fogged interiors that draw our attention to the benefits of simply being: so that we might notice more, and at the same time find our own internal noise calmed.

His paintings are the opposite of the modern-day selfie photograph. Instead of saying “Look at me and what I’m doing”, these paintings are a refutation to the part of human nature that seeks attention for itself. Instead, their claims are in support of introspection, along with a plea for modesty in the act.

Why we should wish to linger over the sight of an empty couch or a moonlit window his paintings answer by insisting — implicitly — that some of the most meaningful encounters we might have occur in our most private moments.

As Hammershøi said, “I have always thought there was such beauty about a room even though there weren’t any people in it, perhaps precisely when there weren’t any.”

On display, therefore, is a sensibility: an artist’s wish to see the world as a series of opportunities for solitude and reflection.

The Artist’s Eye

Hammershøi was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1864. He spent most of his life in the city of his birth. He trained at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Art, taking lessons from the painter Niels Christian Kierkegaard — notably, the cousin of the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard.

Many of his most effective paintings were completed inside his Copenhagen home, with his wife Ida acting as the model, whom he married in 1891.

Moonlight, Strandgade 30 (1900–1906) by Vilhelm Hammershøi. Oil on canvas. 41 × 51.1 cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, U.S. Image source The Met (Public domain image)

In these images we encounter little but the empty spaces of a well-to-do homestead. The feeling is both pensive and uplifting.

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