The Vilhelm Hammershøi Digital Archive (ViHDA) project

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Abstract

Despite a rapidly growing international interest in Vilhelm Hammershøi’s work by scholars and the public alike, and a considerable body of art historical research into his oeuvre compiled through many years, little is known about the material aspect of his art. There is scant knowledge about how his paintings were created, the techniques and materials he employed and how these affected the appearance of his paintings.
A newly launched 4-year research project The Vilhelm Hammershøi Digital Archive (ViHDA) is carried out at the National Gallery of Denmark (SMK), in collaboration with The Hirschsprung Collection, Ordrupgaard and The David Collection, all of which hold a number of paintings by the artist. The project intends to map the formation and evolution of Hammershøi’s working methods, materials and techniques through a technical scientific documentation of his works. The investigation includes visual and technical examination, a range of scientific analyses, multispectral imaging and registration of paintings from Danish and foreign public and private collections. Scientific methods comprise infrared reflectography and X-radiography as well as chemical analysis by Macro-XRF spectroscopy, which can map the elements in the paint layers and thereby the composition of Hammershøi’s colors in the individual paintings. Infrared reflectography allows us to look beneath the surface of Hammershøi’s paintings and reveal early stages of the compositions and their execution such as potential underdrawing and other features hidden to the naked eye. In addition, X-radiography can inform us about possible changes made during the painting process as well as the nature of the canvas.
The project is carried out as an interdisciplinary collaboration between conservators, conservation scientists, art historians and imaging experts. It will result in an open access digital archive where data, images and other results collected during the project will be made available to scholars and the public.
This presentation will provide an outline of the project and its scope, as well as examples of the interim results. Thus, Hammershøi’s idiosyncratic working methods and their effect on his formats as compared with the conventional standard sizes of the period will be discussed. In addition, while the toned down colours and light effects of Hammershøi’s works would suggest that the artist worked in a few shades of grey supplemented with a handful of warmer brownish colours, results so far point towards a painter with a vastly more colourful and differentiated palette. For instance, analyses have revealed that the muted hues in Hammershøi’s compositions with their seemingly reduced tonality were achieved not simply by mixing white and black pigments, but also by adding a number of other pigments. The findings are illustrative of the subtle and sophisticated technique of an artist who in the past was even regarded by some as colour blind.
Original languageEnglish
Publication dateJan 2022
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022
EventCharacter of an Interior: International Conference on Vilhelm Hammershøi - Adam Mickiewicz University , Poznan, Poland
Duration: 17 Jun 202219 Jun 2022

Conference

ConferenceCharacter of an Interior
LocationAdam Mickiewicz University
Country/TerritoryPoland
CityPoznan
Period17/06/202219/06/2022

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