Author Topic: The Twists' living room and the paintings of Vilhelm Hammershoi  (Read 34767 times)

Offline chowhound

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The Twists' living room and the paintings of Vilhelm Hammershoi
« on: October 10, 2010, 05:19:21 pm »
I don't know how generally known is the connection between the "look" of the Twists' living room and the paintings of the 19th century Danish artist, Vilhelm Hammershoi. In case it's not generally known, I thought I'd post a section of an interview that Rodrigo Prieto, the director of photography, gave to the magazine, American Cinematography, in the January of 2006:

Their farmhouse is "very stark, with grayish-white walls," says Prieto. "I tried to do something very simple but with a powerful contrast, which is difficult to achieve in a white room, so I blew out the windows and made them bright spots while keeping dark shadows on the faces. For this scene, we were inspired by the work of Vilhelm Hammershoi, whose paintings are very moody but devoid of color. We used an 18K HMI as the main source, lighting from a large window next to the table where Jack's father talks with Ennis. The light was diffused with a 12-by-12 full grid that was as close to the window as the framing allowed in each shot. We had two 6K Pars over the smaller windows coming in as direct sunlight through the sheer curtains, and a 4K Par through the small window in the door. For close-ups, I added an Image 80 on the ground to give a sense of light bouncing off the floor, plus a single 2-foot Kino tube wrapped in 216 under the lens for a very slight glint in the eyes. The goal was to suggest that Ennis feels uncomfortable in the stale, monochromatic atmosphere."

I came across this in a review of an exhibition of his paintings put on in London a little while back. It may help to explain his appeal:

Hammershoi understands the power of negatives, the unsaid, the unshown. His art is full of refusals. The back-turned woman, revealing nothing of her mind; the unmotivated presence of these figures, haunting the rooms like ghosts; the doors  closed or ajar, implying something hidden beyond; the apartments' unexplained emptiness, occupied only by light, or with a few isolated signs of life, like the Mary Celeste.

Everything conspires to create a mood of absence, loss, denial. Somebody is dead. Somebody is abandoned. Somebody is fatally repressed. Life is on hold, proceeding in a reduced, trance-like manner. Behind the scenes, on everyone's mind, there's a secret.

And Hammershoi embodies the unending and the unknown with his walls – those blank, flickering expanses, stretches of nothing that face out, flat-on to the picture surface. The paintings' viewers, like the figures in them, do a lot of staring at walls.

It is an intensely narrow art. You might think of Jane Austen's phrase – "the little bit (two Inches wide) of Ivory on which I work with so fine a Brush" – but compared with Hammershoi's, her world is a herd
of elephants. And it's not just within the pictures that so little happens, but between them.

The second paragraph seems strangely apposite for the Twist household.

Offline Front-Ranger

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Re: The Twists' living room and the paintings of Vilhelm Hammershoi
« Reply #1 on: October 10, 2010, 05:59:15 pm »
Very interesting, friend! You are quite a hound to sniff out these interesting stories! That description of the Twist house seems very Scandinavian and existential to me. What is a Mary Celeste? What a pretty name...is that another name for a crucifix??
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Offline Aloysius J. Gleek

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Re: The Twists' living room and the paintings of Vilhelm Hammershoi
« Reply #2 on: October 10, 2010, 07:59:21 pm »
















"Tu doives entendre je t'aime."
(and you know who I am...)


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and Pee-wee in the 1990 episode
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Offline Andrew

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Re: The Twists' living room and the paintings of Vilhelm Hammershoi
« Reply #3 on: October 10, 2010, 08:08:39 pm »
All right, the question about the Mary Celeste was directed to chowhound but I am going to toss manners out and link myself to the Wikipedia article.   Clearly this ship deserves to become a byword for what it symbolizes, and it is a very apt reference in the context of that review.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Celeste

Offline Meryl

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Re: The Twists' living room and the paintings of Vilhelm Hammershoi
« Reply #4 on: October 10, 2010, 08:20:17 pm »
Chowhound, thanks very much for the interesting background.  This is not the first time I've heard about Hammershoi in connection with the look of the Twist house, though I can't put my finger on which thread it might have been in.  At any rate, it only adds to the amazing artistic depth of the film.
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Re: The Twists' living room and the paintings of Vilhelm Hammershoi
« Reply #5 on: October 10, 2010, 08:21:01 pm »
Thanks, Andrew! Very intriguing!!  

This ties in with the Hidden Ocean theme.
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Offline Andrew

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Re: The Twists' living room and the paintings of Vilhelm Hammershoi
« Reply #6 on: October 10, 2010, 08:40:17 pm »
Posting those pictures wordlessly was metaphysically very appropriate given their style, John.

Now I am going to continue blathering away as if I missed the point !

Since Jane Austen's name was invoked, I can't just act as if it was not, I have to stop and acknowledge the relevance, even though this is a digression.


Austen was in fact a very spare writer, who worked for years pruning her first two novels until nothing inessential was left.

Architecturally, these nineteenth century Danish rooms were much like the rooms she lived in at Chawton and Steventon.  Her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh wrote in his memoir,  contrasting the plainness of interiors in her time with the overabundance introduced by the Victorians, said,

"But a still greater difference would be found in the furniture of the rooms, which would appear to us lamentably scanty.  There was a general deficiency of carpeting in sitting-rooms, bed-rooms, and passages.  A pianoforte, or rather a spinnet or harpsichord, was by no means a necessary appendage.  It was to be found only where there was a decided taste for music, not so common then as now, or in such great houses as would probably contain a billiard-table.  There would often be but one sofa in the house, and that a stiff, angular, uncomfortable article.  There were no deep easy-chairs, nor other appliances for lounging; for to lie down, or even to lean back, was a luxury permitted only to old persons or invalids.  It was said of a nobleman, a personal friend of George III. and a model gentleman of his day, that he would have made the tour of Europe without ever touching the back of his travelling carriage.  But perhaps we should be most struck with the total absence of those elegant little articles which now embellish and encumber our drawing-room tables.  We should miss the sliding bookcases and picture-stands, the letter-weighing machines and envelope cases, the periodicals and illustrated newspapers—above all, the countless swarm of photograph books which now threaten to swallow up all space.  A small writing-desk, with a smaller work-box, or netting-case, was all that each young lady contributed to occupy the table."

Later he describes Austen's last illness,

"Gradually, too, her habits of activity within the house ceased, and she was obliged to lie down much.  The sitting-room contained only one sofa, which was frequently occupied by her mother, who was more than seventy years old.  Jane would never use it, even in her mother’s absence; but she contrived a sort of couch for herself with two or three chairs, and was pleased to say that this arrangement was more comfortable to her than a real sofa.  Her reasons for this might have been left to be guessed, but for the importunities of a little niece, which obliged her to explain that if she herself had shown any inclination to use the sofa, her mother might have scrupled being on it so much."









Offline Andrew

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Re: The Twists' living room and the paintings of Vilhelm Hammershoi
« Reply #7 on: October 10, 2010, 09:52:07 pm »
Some of the Hammershoi interiors have a few prosperous middle class touches, they are almost halfway back to the quiet peace of Vermeer.  Yes, 'back'.  Vermeer has a few pictures where we see the lady's back only.  And Hammershoi seems to have more.



And the third one John put up.


But the pictures which especially inspired the filmmakers were clearly the barer ones.


Surely, one of the art team from Brokeback Mountain had seen the 2001 Hammershoi show in New York or London, or the catalog?

That third picture shows only one plant in the room, not a little jungle of pots.  One desk, one bed.   It has the feeling of Fanny Price's little white attic bedroom in Austen's Mansfield Park, next to the disused schoolroom, with the geranium she tended.





And its plainer, poorer version is in the Twist household.






In those plain times, there would be only one  sofa, if you had one.  

One carefully tended house plant, if you had one.  

(One other loved human being, if you had one.)



Offline Marina

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Re: The Twists' living room and the paintings of Vilhelm Hammershoi
« Reply #8 on: October 10, 2010, 11:15:26 pm »
What an interesting thread - strikingly beautiful paintings.  Thank you!  :)
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Offline Sason

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Re: The Twists' living room and the paintings of Vilhelm Hammershoi
« Reply #9 on: October 11, 2010, 04:08:40 pm »
I love those bleak, stark paintings.

The BBM connection is very interesting.

Thank you so much for pointing this out, Chowhound.

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