Carl Vilhelm Holsøe is a somewhat undervalued artist. His paintings aren’t really colourful or daring, his brushstrokes aren’t too decadent or passionate, his themes are already seen but there is something about these paintings that keeps puzzling me ever since that morning of 19th June. I remember it clearly; the rapture I felt because I’ve re-discovered some interesting artists, and full of enthusiasm I spent the entire morning half-mesmerised half-intrigued by Holsøe’s paintings, amongst other things. A month has passed, and these paintings continue to intrigue me.
Carl Vilhelm Holsøe was a Danish artist, famous for his interior scenes. A son of an architect, Carl attended Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. He was famous during his lifetime not only in Denmark, but also in other Scandinavian countries. His paintings are often seen as brilliant extensions of the works of the seventeenth century masters, Vermeer most notably.
Holsoe’s paintings all follow a similar pattern: they’re usually very light, radiating the simplicity and bourgeois tastes in furniture and decoration, women or children bathed in soft daylight coming through the windows, dark and serious mahogany chests, chairs or tables, soft lights curtains, and modest details such as books, teapots, picture frames, and flowers. These domestic interiors radiate serenity, peacefulness and mystery. Doors and windows play a great role in most of his paintings.
I thinks they’re something more than just doors; they are passage ways, a transition, connection between two opposites. Aldous Huxley wrote “There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.” Holsøe’s doors and windows suggest a new worlds outside the domestic comfort of his clean Scandinavian living rooms and corridors, but he leaves the viewer with only a hint for we do not know what wonders or troubles hide behind those wide white doors to unknown.
Holsøe places a major emphasis on the play of lights and shadows and he is very detailed in that aspect. Just notice how carefully and gently he painted those white curtains, white is also the hardest colours to paint, and the soft yellowish light peeking through the curtains. In some paintings, the painter gives us a hint of the sunny day outside, flowers and exuberant nature, while the others show a brown and dull scenery, possibly Autumn. In the last painting I’ve presented here, Holsoe again indulged himself with lights and shadows, and painted one of those calm days when the sky is not engulfed in threatening grey clouds but it’s not sunny either, and the light in the house takes greenish shades, especially against the wonderful white walls and doors.
The figures in his paintings are mostly women and children, but they’re unimportant in this context which we can assume by the way he painted them – very blurry, turning their back on the viewer. His women are engrossed in their own activities; they are shown reading books, writing letters or simply sitting by the window and looking outside, or waiting by the white doors in a greenish light of a serene day. Their face expressions, their thoughts or feelings are unknown to us for they are irrelevant in these paintings, and like the furniture their role is to beautify the interior and bring focus to a subject that matters – doors and windows. In the painting Interior with Garden Holsoe used an interesting composition: we see a window but only through the open doors.
But again that magic and uncertainty of the unknown puzzles me. What hides behind these windows? What is their purpose in all of these paintings? Maybe what lies behind these windows and doors is the infinity itself. Mysteries, secrets, and a gateway. William Blake said ‘If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.‘