Sophus Vermehren, Housewife Surprises Reading Maid

Sophus Vermehren, Housewife Surprises Reading Maid

This early 20th-century oil painting by Danish artist Sophus Vermehren (1866-1950) depicts an interior scene with a housemaid and lady. The maid is reading a diary, while the lady of the house clasps her hands in prayer.

Story

Imagine you’re the maid, for twenty years in the service of a pious couple. He works in Copenhagen, while his wife remains at home and occasionally mingles within the realms of high society. Their world is out of reach for someone with a humble lifestyle and you’re grateful for the employment. At times, you can do nothing right, she’s a thorn in your side - running a finger along the sideboard to check for dust, questioning your diligence in a patronising tone.

But this Monday changed everything. Her diary, left open on the dresser, is too tempting to ignore. From an initial glance, you spot something awry - another man’s name, tales of an illicit romance, trips to the country, a longing that things were different. You stand motionless, gripped by the scandal of an affair. She arrives behind you, speechless, with an important decision to make.

Context

Sophus Vermehren was an accomplished painter of interior scenes such as this. Unlike his father and brother, who preferred to depict scenes involving the working classes in rural areas, Sophus often painted middle-class interiors with narratives familiar to his patrons. In 1909, he produced a view of a similar home also featuring the maid, so it’s tempting to wonder if it’s his own residence.

Learn more about Sophus Vermehren in our directory.

Medium: Oil on panel
Overall size: 27” x 24½” / 69cm x 62cm
Year of creation: c. 1910
Frame: Gilt frame with foliate, probably original.
Labels & Inscriptions: Two labels from art dealer Otto Lemming. Gallery stamps. Label with attribution.
Signature: Unsigned.
Condition: Artwork presents well. Craquelure but the paint is stable. Frame with some light wear.
Artist Training: Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen.
Public Collections: Musee-d'orsay, Paris, Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen & others.
Artist’s auction maximum: £16,532

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