Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Interior of an artist's studio. 1690c.

 Anglo-Dutch School 

Interior of an artist's studio.,  Anglo-Dutch School
Oil on canvas
17th Century
22 x 29 inches 56 x 73.5 cm
This small painting is remarkable less for the quality of its execution than for offering a great rarity- a view of the interior of an artist''s studio. Unlike the Kunstkammer views of the collections of great men, which enjoyed a particular vogue in the early years of the seventeenth century, paintings of artists' workshops are not frequently found. In 1665 Gonzales Coques painted such an interior (Staatliches Museum, Schwerin). The painter is sitting, playing a lute -quite plausibly, of course- for the entertainment of two clients, and fruit is carelessly scattered on the floor. Otherwise, studio interiors emerge dimly in the backgrounds of self-portraits, most notably in those of Rembrandt and, indeed, Poussin.

Even though Gonzales Coques''s conception of a studio is idealised, the general mise-en-scene is not fanciful. Only the languorous atmosphere is imported, since such places were often a rendezvous for witty conversation and gossip, as later were fashionable tailors' shops in the 1960s. The studio was not the paint-spattered space as conventionally imagined - whose disorder is often seen as proportional to the productive energy of its occupant - but a set of rooms suitable for the entertainment of clients, and in this to be as close in state to the interiors they themselves inhabited.

It is rarer still for an interior such as this to be shown unoccupied. It is almost impossible to recollect a single empty room in early modern painting, or a landscape unpopulated by men or animals. The painter overcomes this feature, which might make many contemporaries uneasy, by a daring device, since the room is plainly full of people, but only in the form of their portraits. The painting immediately in the foreground on the easel, which is characterised so much more closely than the others, is plainly that of the artist himself, and in indication of this his brushes and palette are proprietorially juxtaposed. The expensive carpet on the table and the richly covered backstools are indicative both of the comfort offered to clients and of the painter''s particular prosperity. The prints spread on the table represent an important and often overlooked aspect of the painter''s trade, depending on whether they are after the painter''s own works or those of rivals. Selling engravings and mezzotints after his paintings were a lucrative way whereby a painter might disseminate his work, and the total worth of a popular painting might be a great deal more than the fee charged for the original commission. Equally, prints from the workof other painters were eagerly acquired by all artists as a source for new compositional ideas and motifs for later incorporation in their own work.

On the walls behind are grand portraits in the standard sizes and proportions of late seventeenth and early eighteenth century portraiture. The three-quarter length canvasses are most probably of fifty by forty inches, and the smaller head and shoulder portraits of thirty by twenty five inches. These dimensions employed since the second quarter of the seventeenth century have remained standard sizes of English canvas to the present day. The absence of full-length portraits on show in what must be something of an advertisement may indicate a more modest practice than the more successful court painters.

The interior with latticed casement windows and heavy black bolection-moulded chimneypiece could well represent a room in London, perhaps in Covent Garden, which by the 1660s had become the principal artistic quarter in London. The large Italian landscapes in the overmantel and the overdoor are probably not the work of the artist, but a type of picture judged suitable for those prominent positions in which -to judge from seventeenth and eighteenth century interiors and from surviving interiors- portraits were rarely hung.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.