Formerly in the collection of Vilhelm Hammershøi's friend, champion and biographer, Alfred Bramsen, this trademark painting depicts a corner of a bedroom in the artist's Copenhagen home at Strandgade 30. Infused with the quiet poetry that defines the artist in the popular imagination, the painting is also notable for its spatial complexity, which serves to reinforce the sense of isolation that informs so much of the artist's work.
Hammershøi's interior views are always quietly unsettling. An apparently personal space is devoid of personal objects or people, stripped down to a few essentials: a chair, sideboard and mirror. Even the bedroom window is devoid of curtains. The sense of asceticism is reinforced by the artist's use of muted colours - subtle modulations of grey, white and brown - applied with delicate glazes and a hazy vibrancy which seems to further distance an everyday setting from reality.
However, it is from the artist's use of line and perspective that this painting derives its greatest power. The composition is centred around windows and a doorway, which are echoed repeatedly through the composition with intersecting gridlines: the doorframe, the wall panelling, the reflections on the floor, and the legs of the chair. The apparently arbitrary cropping of the composition, and the numerous oblique angles throw the viewer slightly off balance and pull the eye away from the central point of the canvas -- an empty corner -- and towards the door, windows and the pool of light on the floor. Paradoxically, these apparent openings onto the outside world serve only to reinforce the hermetic mood of the painting, acting as barriers between interior and exterior worlds. The sunbeams are the only hint of a world beyond, but reflect back on to the floor, focussing attention inwards; the view through the door leads to a window that is open, but so opaque that the outside world cannot be discerned; and the window on the right leads only to another window. The composition thus appears to reach out only to turn in on itself, creating the pictorial equivalent of a hall of mirrors.
This sense of inward reflection is subtly reinforced by the placement of the mirror on the right of the painting. Despite its small size, the mirror draws attention to itself by its circular shape, at odds with its rectlinear surroundings and by its very inclusion as one of only three loose objects in the room. The light from the window behind cuts across the middle of the glass surface, dividing it into light and shade, and echoing the opposing relationship between inside and outside worlds embodied by the windows.
The overarching effect of Hammershøi's painting is one of stillness, but combined with a sense of melancholy which arises as the subtly embedded dissonance within the work reveals itself to the viewer. The initial impression of harmony and symmetry, of recognition associated with an everyday space and objects, gradually breaks down to confound expectations, and reveal a world that is somehow distant and closed in on itself.