Nowadays, we are used to seeing photographs of pristine, stylish interiors; magazines are dedicated to such images, social media is packed with inspirational home design pages and Pinterest provides a platform in which these ideas can be shared and saved for future use.
However, interior paintings carry a value that the photograph alone cannot capture. In many instances, they offer a glimpse into history at a time when ‘Facebook’ would have conjured ideas of a portraiture book and the word ‘camera’ was being used (circa 18th century) as a short version of the Modern Latin phrase ‘camera obscura’, meaning ‘dark chamber’.
In the Beginning
Interior paintings first came into production around the 14th century and often allowed for complete, perspectival backdrops to biblical scenes. Towards the 16th century, they provided the background for still life arrangements – with the room often taking centre stage.
The 19th Century
Around the start of the 19th century, a tradition began across Europe for the upper class and aristocracy to document their personal rooms within the form of painting. They would commission artists to produce small, accurate and very detailed watercolours of their home interiors.
In the same way, we have photo albums nowadays, these paintings would be added to display albums to enable them to remember and reflect on spaces – often before or after renovations. Sometimes these albums would be given as gifts for children leaving the family home or as wedding gifts to remind the new couple of their childhood houses.
Becoming a Trend
Queen Victoria often commissioned interior paintings and noted in her personal diaries that both her and her husband enjoyed looking at these pictures. It allowed them to reminisce about certain times in their lives and what had taken place in each room.
In the late 1800s, interior paintings started to become even more popular as people began travelling across the world and buying holiday homes around the country. Paintings of domestic interiors helped to remind them of their other spaces and bring a touch of creature comforts to new rooms.
Fashions of the Time
These paintings are a snapshot of the design trends of the time, offering a glimpse into history. The 1850 painting “A bourgeois drawing room” by Franz Pitner, for example, shows the interior of a Viennese drawing room. Beautifully recorded, it highlights the changing styles in furniture and interior decoration during the mid-19th century. The chairs and sofa, with deep buttons and rich red upholstery, match the fashions of the 1840s.
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