August 5, 2008

Oh dear, a recent onslaught of (very fun) guests and a ton to do at work has left me rather behind online. But fear not, gentle reader, for I have seen and read all manner of goodies that I am looking forward to sharing!

First off is this picture painted by Danish painter Hammershøi in 1905. What do you see? An empty room and some doors? That’s what my first glance showed me too. But take the time to look more closely, read the following and it transforms into a whole lot more. And if you’re in London, you can see his gently secretive paintings in real life at the Royal Academy.

‘A mystery. Open Doors, painted by Vilhelm Hammershøi in 1905. Are the two tall rectangles of creamy paint, so immaculate, so implacable, beckoning to the viewer, or simply to one another? The doors have contrasting handles, as if they were oppositely sexed, but otherwise there is precious little to hold on to. No palpable object interrupts the emptiness behind each, nor yet the corridor that leads to a third, shadowed door, which in turn opens on to a sunlit room. Does that thin, distant bar of dazzle stand as the end of some short but momentous journey? Whose journey is it? Someone is busy not being here. What if that person, that missing cue, were to be found down the darkest, most inward doorway, the one that leads rightwards off the hall?

Your curiosity is lured into that enclosed hall, yet your attention is held back – left dangling over the bare floorboards with their scuffed varnish, which is the nearest to an indicator of commonplace living and everyday usage that the picture is prepared to provide. A tantalising juggle with emptinesses. It is half as if you were shown someone else’s chess problem, half as if you were being offered some metaphor or some veiled confession. You could search for equivalents from the English poetic repertory – that image for the soul’s voyage through this world that Bede set down, the bird that flies into a room through one window and then swiftly out through another. Or that most minimal of Nick Drake lyrics, “Know”: “Know that I love you / Know I don’t care / Know that I see you / Know I’m not there.”‘

See what else Julian Bell had to say about Hammershøi in the Guardian.


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