Hans Heyerdahl grew up in Drammen and received his initial training as a painter in 1873 at the Christiania School of Drawing. The following year he was admitted to the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Munich, where he continued to study until 1878, when he moved to Paris and found new inspiration there.
At the Window differs noticeably from Heyerdahl’s earlier works, which were influenced by the dark, stringent style of the Munich school. This picture showcases what Heyerdahl learned from modern French painting, from the intuitive brushstrokes of plein-air painting, and from a colouring technique that made it possible to depict the shimmering sunlight above the hot rooftops and the reflections in the shadowy interior.
However, the luminous tones of the outdoor scenery are balanced by the woman dressed in dark blue. She sits lost in her own thoughts, with her head resting on her right hand. She has let the book in her left hand fall to her lap, as she peers out through the open window with a distant gaze. The motif has been culled from the repertoire of romanticism, but it is seen through the eyes of a contemporary artist. The decorative cast iron grating physically divides the picture plane into indoors and outdoors, into proximity and distance, but symbolically it can also be seen as a division between yearning and reality.
According to family tradition, the sitter for Heyerdahl’s painting was his first wife and relative, the singer Maren Christine Heyerdahl. They married in 1879 and had their first child the following year. Perhaps it is not romantic dreams that occupy her mind at the moment, but other, entirely mundane thoughts?
Text: Trond Aslaksby
From "Highlights. Art from Antiquity to 1945", Nasjonalmuseet 2014, ISBN 978-82-8154-088-0