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Carl Vilhelm Holsøe (Danish, 1863-1935)
Carl Vilhelm Holsøe (Danish, 1863-1935)

The Artist's Wife sitting at a Window in a sunlit Room

Carl Vilhelm Holsøe (Danish, 1863-1935)
The Artist's Wife sitting at a Window in a sunlit Room
signed 'C. Holsøe' (lower right)
oil on canvas
32 ¼ x 35 ½ in. (81.9 x 90.2 cm.)
Erik Thune (1893 - 1983), Philadelphia, by 1954.
By descent to the present owner.

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Lot Essay

Carl Vilhelm Holsøe was born in Lyngbye near Arhus in Denmark. He studied at the Royal Academy in Copenhagen between 1882-1884, and later at the Kunstnernes Studieskole under Peder Severin Krøyer, the most influential Danish artist of his generation. Much like his friend Vilhelm Hammershøi, who he met at the Kunstnernes Studieskole, Holsøe is most celebrated for his depictions of sparse, tranquil interiors, which convey stillness, timelessness, and introspection. Inspired by Dutch 17th century masters like Vermeer, de Hooch, and ter Borch, Holsøe's figures are still and contemplative, caught in their own reverie. Much like Vermeer, Holsøe’s paintings are illuminated by natural light, both direct and reflected, and the artist has brilliantly captured the atmospheric local Scandinavian light which gives the painting its ethereal quality.

Like Hammershøi, Holsøe frequently used his wife as both muse and model, though her identity is always concealed. She is depicted with her back to the picture plane, or as in the present painting, with her head turned away from the viewer as she gazes out the window, as though she is being observed unaware. It is her presence which gives the work its haunting tension, making the viewer feel as though intruding on a personal, meditative moment. This sense of mood, heightened by the otherworldly quality of the light, imbues the present work with mystery, gravity and serenity. Though the viewer recognizes the figure of the woman, her stillness also allows her to effectively function as an object amongst the others, creating a small still life on the right hand side of the painting comprised of the woman, the tea set on the table and the plant on the windowsill. While Hammershøi and Holsøe depicted similar subjects in their paintings, Holsøe avoids the symbolic overtones found in Hammershøi’s work in favor of scenes which emphasize the simple and narrative beauty of a quiet moment in a quiet room.


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