The Copenhagen Interior School was famous for its depictions of small, quiet interior spaces in houses with plentiful architectural detail. Peter Ilsted, who created this mezzotint of the morning sunshine, played with light in all of his works. The subtle colours mask a technical virtuosity that has been unmatched before or since.
Both Ilsted and his brother-in-law, the painter Vilhelm Hammershøi, frequently painted the women in their lives from behind, often bent over a task. Commentators on Hammershói’s art have speculated that he showed women are turned away from the viewer to increase the mystery inherent in the scene. That is certainly true of Ilsted’s work — they are imbued with a sense of the uncanny, and the fact that the subject’s face is hidden adds to the enigma. Yet, whereas Hammershøi’s paintings often express cold alienation, Ilsted’s works glow with warmth and familial tenderness. When the woman turns away from the viewer, as in this piece, we are forced to reflect on what the woman does, and the space she has created, rather than on her appearance. There’s a respect for who she is, rather than what her face looks like. It’s a heart of mystery whose appeal holds true even today.