Peter Ilsted – Interior with Girl Reading (1908)

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.

Peter Vilhelm Ilsted - Interior with Girl Reading
Peter Ilsted – Interior with Girl Reading (1908)

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a letter, yet we can relate to her far more than we ever could with the models in Hammershøi’s artworks, who appear withdrawn, lonely and unapproachable, trapped in their own dream worlds.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.

8 thoughts on “Peter Ilsted – Interior with Girl Reading (1908)

  1. If I were going to be marooned on an island and all I could have is a book of Hammershøi’s work or Ilsted’s I’d have to go with the latter. Hammershøi’s paintings are interesting because they are unique but I think they would dpress me in the long run. Ilsted’s paintings would be enjoyable and comfortable; like Norman Rockwell, but not so in your face cheesy.

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    1. Interesting way of looking at these two artists! I would probably choose Ilsted over Hammershøi too, in this scenario. But in my everyday life I prefer Hammershøi. I feel so calm and composed looking at his works.

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  2. This is one of those paintings that I just get sucked into. As soon as I looked at it I could immediately feel the sun coming in through the window, I could imagine what the room must have felt and smelled like! Maybe because I read a lot but also something about the tone of it speaks to me! 🙂

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    1. I always appreciate how immersed you get into these paintings, M.B. Tue, the art speaks for itself here, but there’s also something very inviting about it too, making it easy to transpose ourselves to that peaceful room.

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  3. It seems to me the main difference between the two is one of mood — there is a deep melancholy in Hammershøi’s paintings, a cold emptiness, even when he is including people in his scenes. In comparison, Ilsted’s work appear warm and rich.

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