A painting’s power lies in what it makes you feel. Like reading a book, a painting is like a book of emotions, made of a single sheet; the canvas. So what emotions come into your mind when you look at the painting “Interior, Strandgade 30” by the Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershoi?
I bet the first thing that must come to your mind is confusion, perhaps a vague sort of remembrance. This painting, at the first glance, is a very simple one. There is nothing spectacular here to analyze; no mysterious smile to read, no patterns to decode, and no allusion of any kind.
Yet when asked what this painting makes someone feel, it is very difficult to pinpoint the exact feeling. So let’s look at the painting and find out the answer in-depth.
Before you assume, Hammershoi was not color-blind. He was the painter of dull, muted tones. Every single painting that the artist has made lacks any vibrant color. It is almost as if the artist had never seen a garden of flowers, or the sky adorned with a rainbow.
What’s more interesting is that he was well-trained in the en plein air movement of art which was the precursor to impressionism. Despite studying art for decades, and mastering the understanding of light, Hammershoi preferred to keep his canvas monotonous, muted, and quiet.
The harsh straight lines of the painting are balanced by the soft tones of colors that blend so well with the shadows. The light in his paintings always feels like it’s coming from a diffuser; soft and smooth without any sharp lines or edges.
Apart from the softness of the colors, the brush strokes are also very soft, almost making the painting look like an impressionist artwork. Notice how nothing, even the shadows are sharp around the edges; everything mixes and blends quietly.
All of these little details add to the effect of the painting. The painting looks “quiet.” You can “observe” the silence of the painting. Nothing too sharp or loud, not even the sound of something dropping.
The Setting in Strandgade 30
There are many paintings by the name of “Interior, Strandgade 30” because Strandgade 30 was the place where the artist lived and derived most of his artistic inspiration. He enjoyed exploring what the interiors had to offer. People often argue that Hammershoi was more of an interior designer than a painter, and I can understand why.
He disliked the over-cluttered, which was the norm back in his time. Hammershoi preferred minimalism; just a chair on the side, a table in the middle, and two paintings on the wall. The rest is just empty space.
This “emptiness” of the scene almost makes you feel a sense of silence. You can feel that even the softest sounds can be heard across the room. This emptiness makes the viewers vulnerable and in a way, arrests them. You just want to stare at the painting, feeling lost in some familiar place.
This painting gives us the space in our minds to retrospect, introspect, and look for the pockets of empty spaces in our memories.
The People in the Painting
There are many paintings by the artist that just show empty rooms with no one in them. But “Interior, Strandgade 30” shows someone. A woman in black is standing in the next room, with the door ajar. She is turned around, so we cannot see her, neither can she.
Not just this painting, but every painting that shows someone standing inside, they are never looking in the viewers’ direction. They are either turned around or busy doing something. The woman you see here is Ida, Hammershoi’s wife and model for many of his paintings.
Here, she almost dissolves in the darkness of the next room, intensifying the feeling of being lost. She is here, standing in front of the viewers, busy doing something. This makes us want to be quieter, almost as if we do not want to let her know that we are here.
What the Painting Makes Us Feel
As mentioned in the beginning of the article, the most important thing about a painting is the emotion it elicits from the viewers. So what makes Interior, Strandgade 30 so powerful and unique that it is the artist’s most famous painting? The answer is silence.
In a way, this painting is a meditative painting. You are not just looking at it but lost in it. Every element of this painting; the bland colors, the lack of anything interesting, and the desire to remain silent while you are looking at it calms the chatter of the mind.
The painting does not take you to some forlorn place where you will be lost and forgotten, like a forest or an empty island. In fact, you are not alone in this painting. There is someone in a room that seems cool and quiet. You are familiar with the setting as we have all had moments when we just sat quietly in our houses, staring at nothing but just enjoying the quietness.
The open doors and the window that show nothing but gray give you a sense of openness. You are not locked inside a dungeon. You are in this vast, open, and empty space filled with nothing but silence. And this is what you feel when you look at the painting; silence.
Hammershoi is one of the most celebrated and revered painters from Denmark. While his works were not considered serious while he was alive, it was the bittersweet posthumous fame that was destined for the artist.
Interior, Strandgade 30 sold for DKK 31.5 million, making it the most expensive painting ever sold in Denmark. Silence is indeed golden.
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