The White Door is Vilhelm Hammershøi’s first known painting of an empty interior, a subject which would become a hallmark of his artistic oeuvre. In this early work, the artist has incorporated all the elements so representative of his unique style. A study for the present painting, also painted in 1888, is currently in the Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen.This version differs in several elements from the present picture, as it is slightly smaller and has been trimmed on the left and lower edges. Just these small adjustments create a radically different symmetrical balance and focus between these two paintings. The present work, considered to be the prime version of the composition, demonstrates a balance and harmony between the white door and black stove; while in the Statens Museum version the door is the focal point. Traces of pinholes (some of the pins even remain) are visible along all four edges of the prime version, and these pins were applied to enable the artist to create a grid for transfer in preparation of the second version. When the images are superimposed, the structure of the two works corresponds precisely (cf. fig. 2). A similar technique was used by Hammershøi in his portrait of Ida Ilsted from 1890, in which the photograph that served as the basis for the painting was squared for transfer (P. Vad, op. cit., 1988, p. 50, illustrated).
The title, The White Door, was the artist’s choice. However, in the 1904 Bramsen sale, it was titled ;Stue med en gammal
Billaewggerovn (Interior with an Old Jamb Stove);, the title by which both versions have since become known. It could be argued that the original title more accurately connotes the painting’s metaphysical qualities. 'The White Door' was executed during Hammershøi’s two-week stay at Karl Madsen’s home in Lyngby, north of Copenhagen in the autumn of 1888. Madsen, a celebrated Danish art critic and art historian, lived in a house built in 1791 known as Albertine Lyst. In a 1908 interview, Hammershøi recalled the present painting:
‘The first interior I painted, if my memory doesn’t fail me, was out at Karl Madsen’s place. I stayed with him in the autumn of ’88 in an old house called Albertine Lyst. In any case, it was the first picture of an empty room I painted. I have always thought there was such beauty about a room like that, even though there are no people in it, perhaps precisely because there are no people in it’ (P. Vad, op. cit., 1988, p. 62, 401).