The narrative of Vilhelm Hammershøi revised. Investigating the artist’s use of cobalt blue, chromium-based green and cadmium yellow

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An ongoing project The Vilhelm Hammershøi Digital Archive (ViHDA) at the National Gallery of Denmark (SMK) has investigated the characteristics and development in the Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi’s (1864-1916) working methods through a systematic visual, technical and scientific documentation of, until now, 80 paintings by the artist’s hand. In spite of his growing reputation, very little has been known about his techniques or materials. This research, which will become available in an open-access digital archive, has provided significant insights into the distinctive artistic qualities of this world-famous Danish painter. Known generally for his use of greyish and toned-down shades, he actually made extensive use of colourful pigments such as cobalt blue and cadmium yellow. The research has included a range of analytical methods: Infrared reflectography was carried out to reveal early stages of compositions and potential underdrawing, X-ray radiography to inform about possible changes made during the painting process, and weave-mapping to compare canvases and to identify potential counterparts. Scanning X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (MA-XRF) was performed to map chemical elements in the paint layers and thereby outline the use of pigments in the individual paintings. In order to investigate and compare the stratigraphy and composition of ground layers, each painting was sampled from the tacking edge, and scanning electron microscopy coupled with energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (SEM-EDX) was carried out on cross sections. The results of the project have so far revealed an artist that was substantially more colourful and experimental in his working methods than previously assumed. Not only did Hammershøi make use of a considerably more comprehensive and versatile palette, he also made significant changes during the painting process to many of his otherwise very well defined and highly balanced compositions. This poster will focus on the extensive and repeated use of cobalt blue and cadmium yellow in Hammershøi’s production. Surprisingly, cobalt blue was identified as a predominant component in the skin tones of Hammershøi’s portraits and figures, and in other compositional elements the blue pigment is mixed with chromium-based green or cadmium yellow. In addition, for instance, in some of his landscape paintings, where the lack of a green pigment is remarkable, Hammershøi instead made use of a mixture of cobalt blue and cadmium yellow. Our results demonstrate the artist’s mastery in the use of colours beyond the viewer’s eyes.
Publikationsdato19 sep. 2023
StatusUdgivet - 19 sep. 2023