The subject of the interior, with figures in it, seems to be a far smaller genre than still life, or the figure, for which there are many more examples to look at. However, once my search was under way I discovered many that appealed to me – I didn’t want to lose any of them, so I didn’t restrict myself to just two or three.
First of all I discovered Jan Mankes, Boy in an interior, 1911. This poetic painting, made up of cream, ochre and dove-grey tones, with accents of burnt sienna, has an effect of restfulness. The position of the boy with his back to us, absorbed in his book, which is surrounded by light, is enigmatic. The edges are soft, making the atmosphere shimmer and melt with a hazy softness and a fading background. To achieve this effect he would carefully rub thinly applied paint into the canvas, then scour off with a pumice before applying the next layer, which would be partially removed again.
I looked at Degas – Woman At a Window at the Courtauld. The atmosphere seems warm and sultry with the use of hot reds and black, and accents of light picked out in pale yellow. Detail is minimal there is just an indication of a chair, and a view from the half-open window. The composition with its relative positions and sizes of tones and colours seems perfectly balanced, but without the small detail of the chair would feel rather empty – the chair somehow grounds the woman in three-dimensional space.
Figures in a Bar is one of several more or less monochromatic paintings by Keith Vaughan on this theme.
They appeal to me because he has taken simplification (both of the interior and the figures) quite far, and at the same time achieved an observant depiction of the sort of vibe you sometimes feel in a bar – dejected chaps killing time, each in their own private world, but gathered together for the solace of company. It also reminds me a bit of my last painting for assignment 2 in the way the bar, figures and glasses have been drawn as simple, flat, outlined shapes, some coloured in, others treated differently.
Max Beckmann, Company in Paris, 1931 shows a gathering of high society on the eve of the Third Reich – they all look pretty depressed despite being at a party! I like the crowded composition – the cast of characters are all crushed together at the front of the picture plane – and how the eye is somehow drawn to focus on the central character in the foreground – I think this must be because there is the most light on him, and his features stand out.
David Bomberg, Interior and Seated Figure, 1919 – in pencil, pen, brush and black ink, watercolour and body colour – has an unusual viewpoint, with lots of empty brown floor and wall and the figure half hidden with its back to us and its head cropped! I like the use of media and colour, and the passages of white which give the eye a breather in the face of all those dark tones.
Willem de Kooning’s Interior 1946 (Bridgeman) is an abstract painting, in which I can see a reclining female form reclining on a red carpet or bed, a window, lamps. I do like this blend of abstraction and figuration. I find the colours of this work, bright primaries, plus black and white, on a coffee coloured ground, quite appealing. Like other paintings of his which I’ve looked at this one shows vigorous, agressive brushwork; it’s dynamic and has a sense of not being completely finished.
Finally I chose Leon Kossoff’s Two Seated Figures No 2, 1980, a painting of his parents, done in 2-3 hours, in contrast to most of his paintings which were long drawn out affairs with many obliterated versions under the final one. The drawing is simple, childlike, but has captured his perception of the situation and the character of the subjects with its dull colours, the dejected anxious expression of the father, and the far-away bored expression of the mother. The white marks on the surface are drips and spatters of white paint – don’t know what they signify.