Most chairs in art are occupied: Frans Hals’s Portrait of Willem van Heythuysen tipping back on two legs of his; Raphael’s Madonna della seggiola; and perhaps the chairs with most personality, in the portraits of the various popes. Raphael’s Pope Julius II, for instance, with its massive golden acorns, advertizes his membership of the powerful Della Rovere family. But the most famous empty chairs, Van Gogh’s paintings of his and Gauguin’s chairs in the Yellow House at Arles, are famous because they are also portraits of the owners. There is a similar quality to Stephen Rose’s leather library chair; it possesses character, which may be its own or that of its occupant. It is solid, sturdy, made and upholstered for comfort; Victorian and also masculine in its brown leathery comfort. It has had a long, useful life which has polished its back and seat, but also worn them through: it recalls Rembrandt’s self-portraits in old age, in which a similar palette of ochres, charcoals and browns summons history and personality through an unsparing examination of change and decay.
Stephen Rose was born in Rochford, Essex, in 1960. His career as an artist began when, aged 8, he saw a print of Caravaggio’s Conversion of St Paul. He was trained at the Medway College of Art (1979-80), Cheltenham College of Art (1980-83; BA Hons in Fine Art), the British School in Rome (1982), and the Royal Academy of Art (1983-86; Diploma in Fine Art). In 1992 he was elected Brother of the Art Workers Guild, Bloomsbury, London.
He has won various awards, including the British Institute Award, 1983; the Royal Academy Painting Prize, 1984; the Landseer Scholarship, 1985; the Richard Ford Travelling Scholarship, 1986 (when he studied at the Prado, Madrid); and the Royal Overseas League International Painting Competition Travelling Prize, 1987 (when he visited in northern India). He has exhibited at the ICA, the Mall Galleries, the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and the National Portrait Gallery (BP Portrait Competition); in 2001 he had his first one-man exhibition at Target, in Munich, Germany.
Publications: How to paint in oils, Winsor & Newton, 2008