The interior portrait (portrait d’intérieur) or, in German, Zimmerbild (room picture), is a pictorial genre that appeared in Europe near the end of the 17th century and enjoyed a great vogue in the second half of the 19th century. It involves a careful, detailed representation of a living space, without any people. These paintings were generally rendered as watercolors and required great technical mastery, if little creativity. By the mid-20th century, although such scenes were still being created, photography had changed this style of painting into a form of intentional archaism.
The term Interior portrait refers to a genre of painting that deals with the representation of – mostly private – interiors and was almost exclusively in the cultural epoch of the Biedermeier was widespread.
The interior portrait should not be confused with what is called a “conversation piece” in England; a term which designates a scene with a group of people engaged in some activity and often placed outdoors. The true interior piece shows only the room and decor, although previous activity may be suggested by the placement of articles in the room.
There were paintings as drawings, watercolors and gouaches as well as in different mixing techniques. They were relatively small, their average landscape size was about 32.5 × 22.5 cm, larger deviations up or down occurred, but were rare. The illustrations followed in most cases the principle of the box set. The focus was often slightly offset from the center to the left. These works were not the work of amateurs, but of professional artists, partly by specialized “room painters”. A clear example of the appreciation the genre has enjoyed for a while is a series of nine watercolors that the famous architectural painter Eduard Gaertner commissioned by the royal family to create interiors in the Berlin City Palace.
The state of a particular interior was described with great accuracy at a certain time – the appearance and placement of furniture, the colors and patterns of wallpaper, curtains and carpets, the design of rooms with works of art, everyday objects or ornaments. This detailed reproduction of the interiors reveals how intensively the contemporaries dealt with the objects of their private environment and at the same time makes it clear that they also wanted to document this. People were seldom shown in these pictures, and if so, then barely with their individual features, but small-scale and in an activity that corresponded to the purpose of each room. Above all, the individual was indirectly present through the exact description of his private environment.
Room pictures were usually commissioned as personal gifts on certain occasions. The Prussian Princess Elisabeth gave her parents a picture of her Berlin nursery when she went to Darmstadt married young. And a watercolor of the study of Grand Duke Ludwig II of Hesse-Darmstadt was a copy after his death and was given away posthumously. The leaves were possibly passed on, at least not publicly issued and not sold. They were put together into albums – an employment then popular with women in society – and looked at them in a home environment. In addition to their emotional significance, these anthologies were also images of the understanding of art, the educational level and the social status of their owners.
Early Interior portrait
The interior was long present in the graphic works of the Germans and early Netherlands in the 16th century, in the paintings of the Dutch in the 17th century, used as a background in the front and intimate portraits. In the 17th century Holland the image of interiors became an early genre of national art.
In the days of the European Middle Ages, attention was paid not only to the interiors of Romanesque and Gothic churches and cathedrals, but also to private dwellings. Monastic and secular interiors (Romanesque and Gothic) differed in asceticism and minimum furniture. But even then there is a redistribution of premises by appointment – kitchens, halls, dining rooms, bedrooms for the owners, guest rooms and their bedrooms, dwellings for servants, arsenals, guardians. A limited number of medieval interiors or their corners is reflected in contemporary miniatures, in drawings of the late Gentile, in the works of Early Dutch painting, the latter long relied on the experience of the national Middle Ages. The image of the interiors slowly evolved from the schematic image
The masterpiece of early Dutch painting was the portrait of the newlyweds Arnolfini’s work, Jan van Eyck (1434, National Gallery (London) ). The artist presented a moment of wedding oath in the interior of the burgher house, where he married an Italian merchant, who had long settled in the Netherlands. Jan van Eyk dared to expand the boundaries of the usual portrait too, without concealing the difference in age and character of the newlyweds , exactly reproduced the unusual clothes now. Newlyweds are in the room, illuminated by a soft, shimmering light from the window. Following a medieval tradition, Jan van Eyk placed in the room a number of things that had both practical and symbolic significance: a lit candle – a hint of a wedding, an orange on the window – a hint of pleasure, a room doggie – an allegory of loyalty, a hatchet or a harness – a sign piety and so on. But the specificity of the image of household things returns the viewer to the reality and the relationship of things in everyday life, the aspirations of the rulers to the purity, convenience, well-being and comfort, such an inherent and pleasant in the homes of the Netherlands, and such is not usual for the noisy and nomadic Italians who can then convert even palaces on the nomadic square . The inconvenience and incoherence of Italian interiors then complained to the Dutch and German travelers.
Numerous images of interiors were created by masters of German graphics. Among them, as religious scenes (“Annunciation”, “Stretching”), as well as the image of the founding fathers (“St. Jerome in the cell”). The image of St. Jeronim in the cell was practically canonized and logically transformed from the medieval masters to the masters of the age of regeneration and mannerism, where each of them submitted his own interpretation of the theologian’s cell.
Among the secular stories, attention is drawn to the rare images of people during leisure time (Izrael van Mekenem Jr. (1440-1503), engraving “The Dance in Roundabout”) or a cycle of engravings with images of artisans in their own workshops (engraver Yost Amman, “Brewer”, ” “Tkach Kilimar”, “Printing House”, “Pharmacy”, “Hairdressing salon”, “Studio stained glass”) Interiors are not separated from people or domestic situations – and they will not be separated for a long time yet. But the masters freely reproduced the peculiarities of contemporary furniture, household items, machine tools, instruments, and clothing of that time. In the cycle of engravings with artisans, it is precisely these crafts that are characterized by technical features, specific features and even features of technology.
17th century interior portrait
This type of scene first appears near the end of the 17th century. At that time, the intent was entirely descriptive. They were usually done specifically to show the contents of an art gallery, personal library or cabinet of curiosities. One of the first known examples depicts the library of Samuel Pepys in London, dating from 1693. They are still valued today by researchers and decorators. In the case of Pepys, it can be seen, firsthand, how a scholar of that time arranges his books in a bookcase (an innovation at that time), uses a lectern, places cushions for his comfort, hangs maps, etc.
The art of the Netherlands has logically grown in the art of all the regions that were part of the territory of the Historical Netherlands in the 15th and 16th centuries when they, together with Flanders, were members of a single state-political formation. From the 17th century there was a state and artistic division, which resulted in the formation of two national artistic schools, unique in origin, but different in character. Confessional differences also contributed to the artistic distinction. The South of the Netherlands and Flanders remained in the bosom of Catholicism, where religious art had a new flowering in the 17th century. in the baroque style. Holland has become predominantly a Protestant state with realistic guides in culture and the limited use of baroque stylistics.
In the early 17th century, Holland experienced a number of years of self-affirmation and vivacity. Because the struggle for independence from the mighty empire of Spain ended successfully. There was a long work on the recognition of the young state, which just appeared on the political map of Western Europe. Self-assertion and cheerfulness were inherent in both the behavior of the inhabitants and the national art, which was actively deprived of religious restrictions that went from Catholic Italy. The domination of Protestantism, which did not recognize the religious painting of the Catholic model and passed the stage of iconoclasm, led to a significant reduction in orders for religious paintings. And, on the contrary, it will lead to an explosive spread of secular themes in the genres. It was in the art of Holland that extraordinary power and development acquired a portrait, landscape, everyday genre, still life, interior as a genre, which was not even known by the famous centers of contemporary art in Italy or France.
Dutch artists are delighted to paint the interiors of their own and foreign dwellings. Almost all compositions of famous Jan Wermer are presented in cozy, burgher interiors. Unusual masters of interiors with figures were Jan Stan, Peter de Hooh, Gerard Terborh. Deserted after years of iconoclasm, the ascetic interiors of the churches painted by Peter Sanremad, Antony de Lorme,. The warmer feelings are sacred interiors in the paintings of Emmanuel de Witte, lit by the sun and not cluttered with details. Half-peasant homes of poor weavers, artists, barrites, notaries, small artisans, forge blacksmiths were recorded by Peter Codde, Cornelis Beag, Michiel van Mücher, Adrian van Gasbeck, Cornelis Belt. The share of compositions was with the obligatory corner of the interior – it is “Scientist in his own office”. Rembrandt, Solomon Konink, Bartolomeus Maton, Constantine Nettsher, Dominique van Tol created their own variants with an adult or gray character, either as a theologian, or as an astrologer (with books, a globe). Interiors in the paintings of Dutch masters accompany a person from birth to death or to an “anatomy lesson” (visited by all those who like), a special genre of Dutch art of the 17th century.
The Dutch art of the 17th century became a peculiar phenomenon in the artistic situation of Europe in the 17th century. By artists founded by the Netherlands, artists from other European artistic schools of Europe will go.
It was not until the last quarter of the 18th century that a new type of interior portrait with a different intent made its appearance. This type first arose in architectural firms and was done for the benefit of their clients. Great architects such as the James Adam and his brother Robert Adam of Scotland and François-Joseph Bélanger would execute watercolors of their previous projects to entice prospective customers. This created a fad among the wealthy and the nobility to commission paintings of their own rooms, to show off and preserve for posterity. These paintings were often compiled into albums. This craze was particularly prevalent in England. From there, it spread widely throughout Europe.
A characteristic of the Biedermeier was the development to simplicity and modesty – not as an ethical attitude, but as a style question. Instead of overflowing forms and abundant application of gold, simple, formally reduced objects and simple but masterfully crafted materials were considered as proof of aesthetic quality. This particular kind of modest modesty was costly. The nobility and increasingly the wealthy bourgeoisie could afford it – and they had the achievements recorded in pictures.
Periodization in the 18th century
For some time the art of the 18th century. in France, were divided into two main periods – rococo and classicism (or neoclassicism of the late 18th century) or kings that were unproductive. This simplistic approach, which prevailed in the art of France, is rather schematic and does not rely on historical patterns and their imprint in reality . The simplistic approach ignored the real changes, with an emphasis on other events, pushed the heat of antifeudal struggle and the importance of such a period as revolutionary classicism, a unique phenomenon of Western European art.
The real picture of the struggle of ideas and styles changes was much more complicated, nasty, multi-stage.
The first decades of the 18th century. – it is academic classicism, very peculiar and more similar to “baroque” classicism.
The stylistic directions were preceded by a period of pre-coco, the weak sprouts of which broke through the work of several different masters, not necessarily French (Dutchman Nicholas Berchem, Italian Rosalba Career from Venice)
Rococo (which reigned between academic classicism of the 17th century and the neoclassicism of the end of the century).
Enlightenment developed in parallel and synchronously with rococo and practically prepared the antifeudal revolution of 1789-1793 biennium.
Classicalism of the late 18th century. in coexistence with sentimentalism, short term revolutionary classicism and imposed on the art of France (Napoleon and his marshal supporters) Empire.
Classicism (and Empire) lasted until the 1830s and 1850s and coexisted with romanticism.
Almost in all periods, historical painting, declared a presidential genre, lost its leading positions, yielding to the portrait genre. For practically all known artists of the century, Rococo supporters of France and Italy, were portraitist, and the portrait was in the center of the struggle of ideas, practically headed for artistic quest. .
Interior in Rococo painting
The beginning of the 18th century in Paris was marked by the birth of the rococo style. To the formation of a new style in painting were involved artists Frenchman Antoine Watteau and Italian from Venice Rosalba Career, actively supported by the rich and patron Pedro Croz. Germain Bofran became the first significant figure among interior designers who initiated Rococo in the palace decoration of numerous hotels (private urban estates of French aristocrats). The Oval Hall of the Hotel Subiz has become a model of a new style – with its rejection of classical tectonics and columnar pilasters, with arched windows, vegetable decoration, which stuck on the picture-inserts and passed to the ceiling . Ordinary buildings are replaced by wooden panels, paintings and mirrors are woven into strange winding ornaments, light and capricious. An important feature of the interiors are light and comfortable furniture, which supplanted the lush and heavy baroque furniture.
Art, as such, remains aristocratic and serves the needs of the privileged states of society. The art of rococo (with its frivolity, the cult of pleasure, flirtation) exists as if to please the aristocracy and easily entertain it into leisure. It would have remained one of the fashion pages, if not for addressing the stylistics of rococo by a number of extremely gifted artists, including Germain Boffran. For the first time since the Gothic era, interiors refused the order, replacing it with vegetative or wavy decor. Changes in fashion, repairs, and redevelopment of premises in other styles did not contribute to the preservation of interiors of rococo. The notion of their significant artistic value will come later. It was then, in the 19th century, that they would be recorded in a series of watercolors (painted by Hau Edward Petrovich, interiors of the Great Gatchina Palace), in pictures and photos of the 20th century. The considerable artistic value of the rococo-rarities in the UK’s rocks makes the historians move to the unique decor of the Norfolk Nouus Palace at the Victoria and Albert Museum (Norfolk Nawas Music Hall), where it will become an important exhibit of the past.
Apogee in the 19th century
The first historically important example of the interior portrait represents a small art gallery set up by the Empress Josephine at Malmaison in 1812. In this watercolor by Auguste-Siméon Garneray, we can see her harp, art collection and her shawl, left on an armchair. Thus a new element appears: the psychological elements of the décor and a palpable human presence. One can feel the owner’s emotions and thoughts. In this sense, the paintings have truly become “portraits”.
The nineteenth century will experience a vogue of these pictorial representations, which is explained by many factors. In high social classes, the phenomenon coincides with the growing importance given to the home as a place of comfort, intimacy, family. Coin functions are becoming more and more specialized: for example, the dining room concept is now standard6. On the other hand, the development of new middle classes, anxious to copy the aristocratic taste, increases the movement: as the century advances, the furniture becomes more affordable, thanks to the industrial technologies that manufacture it in series, in a wide variety of choice. Finally, the decorative modes are renewed quickly, the previous styles are revisited: neo-Gothic, neo-classical, neo-Louis XV, etc. It is therefore common for homeowners to order views of their interior to remember, offer, or bequeath them.
The immense popularity of these paintings in the 19th century can be explained by many factors. Among the nouveau-riche and the bourgeoisie, great importance was given to the home as a place of comfort, intimacy and family. This period also saw a specialization (e.g. separate dining rooms) that were once known only to the very wealthy. These new “middle-classes” were also eager to copy aristocratic tastes and industrialization made a much wider variety of furniture easily affordable. Finally, decorative styles were constantly being changed and resurrected, so interior portraits were a way of preserving one’s memories and bequeathing them to the next generation.
Queen Victoria was very fond of these portraits as they allowed her to give the public a look at her loving family life and the comforts of home in a tasteful manner. The craze was thereby spread throughout the Royal Families of Europe. Due to the number of lavishly decorated palaces they possessed (The Winter Palace, Tsarskoye Selo, Gatchina Palace, Peterhof Palace, Pavlovsk Palace…), the Tsars were among the most enthusiastic commissioners of interior portraits. Virtually all of their rooms (except the most private ones) were rendered at least once; some several times. These watercolors are considered to be among the best of their genre.
In the immediately following historical sections, the images retained their private memory value for a while, but lost their meaning through the change in aesthetic views and individual habits. The desire to document their own four walls in this special way was no longer as prevalent as before. Anyone who still wished to use the “modern” medium of photography. At a greater distance from their creation, however, the Biedermeier room paintings became again important sources of special information on cultural history.
The resurgence in the twentieth century
In the twentieth century and today, some artists perpetuate this tradition. Artists perpetuate today the art of interior portraiture, working on the order, in watercolor or oil. Homeowners order views of their homes to remember them, to offer them or to bequeath them to their children, as a testament to the happiness of living or having lived in a loved place. Decorators also use this art for projects they want to give a special atmosphere.
At a time when every cultured young woman learned to paint watercolors, many painted their own rooms or the ones where they were given their lessons. Most of the surviving examples are anonymous and rarely of high quality, but they often have a charm that compensates for what they lack in technical expertise.
However, some members of the aristocracy had real talent, verging on the professional. The Polish Count Artur Potocki, for example, travelled widely, painting watercolors of the hotel rooms and other places where he stayed, from Rome to London.
Nevertheless, virtually all the highest-quality works were produced by professionals with exceptional virtuosity in watercolors and a mastery of perspective…especially conical perspective, with two or three vanishing points, which produces an eerily photographic effect for modern eyes.
With only a few exceptions, such as Jean-Baptiste Isabey and Eugène Lami of France, architect John Nash and furniture-maker Thomas Sheraton (both of England), few artists who dealt exclusively with these portraits are still familiar today. Among some notable artists who produced them, not previously mentioned:
In England: William Henry Hunt, Mary Ellen Best, William Henry Pyne.
In France: Charles Percier, Adrien Dauzats.
In Germany: Ferdinand Rothbart, Rudolf von Alt, Eduard Gaertner.
In Russia: Eduard Hau, Vasily Sadovnikov, Konstantin Ukhtomsky, Grigory Chernetsov, Nikanor Chernetsov (his brother), Alexander Brullov, Karl Brullov (his brother), Pyotr Sokolov, Orest Kiprensky, Alexey Venetsianov.
In Poland, Aleksander Gryglewski.