‘My highlight of 2018’ — Vilhelm Hammershøi’s Interior with an Easel, Bredgade 25

Karl Hermanns, Christie's Global Managing Director of Old Masters, picks this rare Danish painting, which hadn't been seen in public since its purchase more than 100 years ago

According to Karl Hermanns, Christie’s Global Managing Director of Old Masters, 2018 was a bumper year for 19th-century art. ‘We revamped our business to bring together the 19th-century European Art and Victorian Art departments,’ he explains. ‘The idea was to attract new buyers and shine a light on this revolutionary period, which saw the transition from “classic” to “modern” art.’

In the past 12 months world records were set at Christie’s for 19th-century greats Delacroix and Corot, both with paintings from The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller. Pictures by Waterhouse and Tissot in Christie’s new European Art: Part 1 sale in New York also did ‘fantastically well’, adds Hermanns.

Vilhelm Hammershøi (Danish, 1864–1916), Interior with an Easel, Bredgade 25. Sold for $5,037,500 on 31 October 2018 at Christie’s in New York

Vilhelm Hammershøi (Danish, 1864–1916), Interior with an Easel, Bredgade 25. Sold for $5,037,500 on 31 October 2018 at Christie’s in New York

For his personal highlight of the year, Hermanns singles out Vilhelm Hammershøi’s Interior with an Easel, Bredgade 25. The work — which depicts the interior of Hammershøi’s house in Copenhagen where he lived between 1909 and 1913 — is a wonderful example of the artist’s sparse composition, reflecting his interest in the play of natural light as well as deeper existential themes.

‘Although it was painted more than 100 years ago, this work is extraordinarily modern — aesthetically, symbolically, psychologically’ — Karl Hermanns

‘It’s also a rare example of a painting by Hammershøi that includes the obviously very personal and symbolic artist’s easel,’ Hermanns explains. ‘Although it was painted more than 100 years ago, this work is extraordinarily modern — aesthetically, symbolically, psychologically.’

The painting was purchased by a collector named Adam Black in 1912, the same year in which it was painted, and hadn’t been to market since. In fact, before its unveiling at Christie’s ahead of the sale in New York on 31 October, it had never been seen outside the family home of Black’s descendants.

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‘The sale of the Hammershøi was planned to coincide with TEFAF week in New York,’ Hermanns says. ‘The European Art  sale overall achieved a great result, realising almost four times the level of the previous year.’

On the day of the auction the picture’s rarity and importance — coupled with the renewed market interest in 19th-century art — piqued the interest of 10 bidders, including serious collectors of 20th-century art and Asian buyers as well as traditional collectors. Their bidding pushed the final price to $5,037,500, including buyer’s premium — more than three times the work’s lower estimate.