Peter Ilsted

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The Artist's self-portrait with a cigaret (Kunstnerens selvportræt med cigaret), 1898
Sunshine Falling on a Door, mezzotint in black, Vess Collection

Peter Ilsted (14 February 1861 in Sakskøbing – 16 April 1933 in Copenhagen) was a leading Danish artist and printmaker. Ilsted, Carl Holsøe and Ilsted’s brother-in-law, Vilhelm Hammershøi, were the leading artists in early 20th-century Denmark. All three artists were members of ‘The Free Exhibition’, a progressive art society created around 1890. They are famous for painting images of "Sunshine and Silent Rooms", all in subtle colors. Their works reflects the orderliness of a tranquil life –- similar to the earlier works of Vermeer. Their art was later referred to as the ‘Copenhagen Interior School’. These interiors evoke at once a sense of calm, as well as a sense of mystery. The orderly rooms are often viewed from behind—causing one to wonder if the scenes are really tranquil or something else. James McNeill Whistler, Duret and important art critics were early admirers and collectors of Ilsted’s work.

Ilsted was Hammershøi's brother-in-law. While at first glance their work appears similar, it is in fact quite different. Hammershøi’s work has an aloof austerity, in contrast to Ilsted's scenes of common life. Though sometimes Hammershøi’s colorful early pictures are reminiscent of James Tissot, his work is quintessentially Danish. However, Ilsted was more of a technician, and he made considerable contributions in the field of graphic art. Ilsted’s mezzotints (sometimes printed in colour à la poupeé) were very popular and important in his day. They were an innovation in the media. Ilsted exhibited his work all over Europe, in London in 1907, in Germany and at the Paris Salon. It is there that his work was first exposed to Europe’s art community.

Ilsted was a great success in his lifetime and won many awards and accolades for his work. He was the only member of the group to also focus on printmaking. Ilsted’s achievements in mezzotints were revolutionary. Some of his mezzotints, most of which were created in black as well as color editions, are considered among the greatest ever made. His greatest contribution which T.F. Simon, Manuel Robbe, and others seemingly adopted was that of inking the plate à la poupée. Some art historians have argued that these 3 men created the technique at about the same time but without consultation. This belief is not certain.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) held an important exhibition on the work of Ilsted, Hammershøi, and Vermeer in 2001.


  • Peter Ilsted (1861-1933): Sunshine and Silent Rooms (1990), Theodore B. Donson Ltd.

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