• The Cello in Art (6) – Two G.O.M. …

I’ve been pondering whether to offer these pictures separately, but these two near-contemporaneous paintings seem to make a pair.  The seriousness of both images – and their lack of animation – does neither sitter any favours.  Each comes across as being set in his morose ways – glum old men of their time, perhaps (though one of them is still relatively young).


The one on the left, The Cello Player (1896), is by the American painter Thomas Eakins (1844-1916).  That on the right, Cello Player (1893), is by the Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi, who was born twenty years after Eakins but died in the same year.  While the Philadelphian Eakins was known for his portraiture, Hammershøi was not.


The subject of The Cello Player is the German cellist, Rudolf Henning, who moved from Leipzig and settled in Philadelphia; he is pictured, in isolation, playing one of the five cello concertos by the almost completely forgotten German cellist and composer, Georg Goltermann (1824-98).  Henning was just a year younger than Eakins, and when the painting was bought by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1896 the two men shared the fee, $250 apiece.  Over a century later, in 2007, it was sold controversially – and secretly – for an 8-figure sum (reportedly $15-25m) in order to buy another Eakins painting, The Gross Clinic (1875).  This ‘upgrading’ (or, to use the jargon, ‘deaccessioning’) caused considerable uproar.  The Cello Player is no longer available for public view.

Eakins, who had the magnificent middle name ‘Cowperthwait’, depicted music and musicians on several occasions, and I’ve appended half a dozen at the end of this post.  Some are depictions of performers of classical music, like The Oboe Player (1903) – a portrait of Benjamin Sharp, and Music (1904).  Some are more ‘downhome’ in subject matter, like The Dancing Lesson (1878) and Home Ranch (1892).  The last two portraits – The Zither Player (1876) and Professionals at Rehearsal (1883) – are especially intimate.  The earlier one, in particular, has much the same air as Degas’s studies of his father listening to the guitarist and singer Lorenzo Pagans, which he painted in the 1890s. Hammershøi’s art and aesthetic could hardly be more different.


As I mentioned in my first ‘The Cello in Art’ entry, on Carl Holsoe’s paintings (11 August), Hammershøi belonged to a small group of Danish painters who focused on cool interiors in which the human figure, if present, often had her (she’s usually female) back to the viewer.  So the Cello Player is a most unusual topic for Hammershøi.  It is a portrait of an orchestral cellist, Henry Bramsen, who was the son of Hammershøi’s greatest champion in Denmark, Alfred Bramsen.  The painting was therefore a favour bordering on obligation rather than a burning artistic necessity, and that comes across in the generalised approach to most aspects of the picture, with only the instrument itself seeming to have much life or presence about it.

As examples of more characteristic Hammershøi topics, here’s Interior: With Piano and Woman in Black, Strandgade 30 (1901), which makes for an interesting comparison with Holsoe’s use of the domestic keyboard instrument in his paintings, and an exterior, Street in London (1906), a view northwards up Montague St with the British Museum on the left.

If you find these two cello players by Eakins and Hammershøi rather sombre, I’ll put up a much jollier, ‘rude’ one tomorrow, despite it being in black and white!


The Oboe Player (1903)

Music (1904)

The Dancing Lesson (1878)

Home Ranch (1892)

The Zither Player (1876)

Professionals at Rehearsal (1883)

• 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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