An interdisciplinary exploration of Vilhelm Hammershøi's use of black and white: tracing the evolution of pigment choices in the artist’s early and mid-career works.

Publikation: KonferencebidragKonferenceabstrakt til konferenceForskningpeer review


The Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916) was an ambitious and uncompromising artist from an early age. Though receiving classical training at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts as well as private Art Schools, he developed his own technique and style early on. Travelling widely, he was aware of the artistic movements of his time, but remained faithful to his distinctive practice throughout his career, painting his almost investigative compositions that explored light and darkness through flickering paint layers.
Despite being the most renowned Danish artist, little has been known about Hammershøi’s technique and materials, and he left very few personal descriptions of his practice and technical choices. The aim of the ongoing research project The Vilhelm Hammershøi Digital Archive (ViHDA) at Statens Museum for Kunst (SMK) in Copenhagen is to unveil the secrets of this enigmatic artist and his iconic paintings of interiors by looking closely at his material choices.
Drawing on the research, the focus of this paper will be Hammershøi’s use of black and white in his paintings of interiors, where he seems to be exploring all the visual phenomenons arising when the nuances of whiteness and darkness are taken to its limits. Emphasis will be on the changes in his choice of pigments, using his earliest works and those from the middle of his career as a point of impact. The paintings have undergone technical examination and scientific analysis by an interdisciplinary team of experts in conservation, heritage science, art history and technical imaging by means of archival material studies, visual examination, Macro-XRF spectroscopy, X-radiography, and multiband imaging.
Overall, the results of our investigation contribute to a deeper understanding of Hammershøi's art, shedding new light on the materials and technique employed by the artist, and providing valuable insights for future conservation and art historical efforts. Being half way through the ViHDA project, our goal is also to raise awareness of this digital resource, which will become available as an open access database.
Publikationsdato2 maj 2023
StatusAccepteret/In press - 2 maj 2023
BegivenhedColour Matters 2023 - Trinity College, University of Oxford, Oxford, Storbritannien
Varighed: 6 dec. 20238 dec. 2023


KonferenceColour Matters 2023
LokationTrinity College, University of Oxford