A while ago I was telling you about Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi and his quiet interiors infused with an eerie solitude, often depicting his wife, Ida, with her back turned to us. Peter Ilsted was her brother. An artist himself, early in his career Ilsted preferred doing portraits and genre paintings, but after befriending Carl Holsøe and becoming Hammershøi’s brother-in-law, he too opted for the tranquility and comfort of peaceful interior scenes.
When looking at Interior with Girl Reading, the influence of Hammershøi is undeniable in the austerity of the room and the limited color palette. But unlike the subjects depicted by Ilsted’s brother-in-law, the girl in this painting is very much engrossed in her reading. As viewers we don’t see much of her face as she leans over a letter, yet we can relate to her far more than we ever could with the models in Hammershøi’s artworks, who appear withdrawn, lonely and unapproachable, trapped in their own dream worlds.
Overall, there is more life pulsing through Ilsted’s art – albeit highly contained, like in this painting. The girl immersed in reading, the sunlight filtered through a window pane and cast on the bare floor and the small plant on the window sill warm up this otherwise very cold interior. The mirror on the wall, a visual trick that old masters like Jan van Eyck enjoyed using to suggest more depth to their scenes, here reflects no other person. Not even the artist himself can be seen, despite the perspective of the room and the fairly central position of the mirror. All we can see is the opposing wall, with a corner of a window. It is a warm and quiet solitude, thoroughly savored by the unknown girl reading her letter.