• The Cello in Art (1) – Carl Holsoe

I am deep in writing a study of Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto (1969-70), so I sometimes stray into the other arts in search of cello-related items.  Two days ago, I came across this haunting painting by an artist new to me (he’s not even listed in Wikipedia!).  Carl Vilhelm Holsoe (1863-1935) was a Danish painter and contemporary of the better-known Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916).  I really enjoyed an exhibition of Hammershøi’s work at the Royal Academy in London three years ago.  They evidently shared a fascination with the spare domestic interior, often including an unidentified human figure – usually female – facing away from the viewer.  This gives their pictures an introspective air, reminiscent of 17th-century Dutch masters.  Holsoe’s colour palette seems to be richer than Hammershøi’s, whose work is more coolly enigmatic.

I haven’t been able to find out much about Holsoe, but there are at least six paintings which include a cello, though it’s never being played.  In one it’s leaning against the same chair as above, as well as against what seems to be a clavichord (another homage to Vermeer, this time to his virginals).

The most touching is the only one with a human figure, a young woman seemingly taking a step towards the instrument, resting her hand on the back of a chair while gazing out of the window.  In another interior not included here,she is reading music seated in front of the same keyboard.
For me, the most resonant image is the one at the top of this entry, although it is also the starkest despite the sunlight illuminating the rug and cello from the side.  There’s something about the cello’s pose – rakish, nonchalant – that suggests that it’s only just been put down after music-making.  Is a parallel with what looks like a reclining figure on the face of the moulded stove too fanciful?  Stoves, including this one, recur elsewhere in Holsoe’s work.  His own home and family are most likely to have furnished his subject-matter, but did he play the cello himself?


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