In an Empty Room

Peter Campbell

Gwen John’s attic bedroom, Edward Hopper’s Sun in an Empty Room, Adolf Menzel’s open window and blowing curtain, Andrew Wyeth’s New England rooms full of cold, hard light, Hammershøi’s frugal Danish ones and Van Gogh’s narrow bedroom: these are pictures you might choose if exiled to a desert island. Thinking of the inviting effect such paintings have I went looking for them in the National Gallery. The closest thing I could find was Hammershøi’s 1899 Interior, in which there is a figure – a maid – but she has her back to you.

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