In the first of these two articles looking at paintings of fires, I showed a selection of works up to the late eighteenth century. Here I resume with an unusual pair of paintings.
Virginie Demont-Breton’s original painting of The Man is at Sea, above, was completed in or before 1889. This shows a fisherman’s wife warming herself and her sleeping infant by the fire, while her husband is away fishing at sea. It was exhibited at the Salon in 1889, following which it was rapidly engraved for prints. Later that year, Vincent van Gogh saw an image of that painting when he was undergoing treatment in the Saint Paul asylum at Saint-Rémy, and made a copy of it, shown below.
Van Gogh also painted Dormitory in the Hospital in Arles that year. In the foreground is a stove similar to those used in Florence Nightingale’s wards in Scutari, during the Crimean War more than thirty years earlier.
A similar stove is at the centre of Henri Jules Jean Geoffroy’s painting of The Night Hostel or The Soup Kitchen from 1891, where homeless women and children are being fed in what appears to be almost a prison.
Laurits Andersen Ring’s contrasting The Artist’s Wife and Children, from 1904, shows his wife Sigrid with their young son and daughter, in front of the roaring fire typical of the more affluent middle class home.
Carl Larsson’s Christmas Eve from 1904 shows his large extended family gathering to celebrate in grand style, with a huge turkey, a roaring fire, and a cat under the table, trying to get into the party.
William McGregor Paxton’s open fire In the Studio (1905) is appropriately classy, glowing in the background. He deliberately defocussed it in what he termed Vermeer’s “binocular vision”. His model is in crisp focus, and as the eye wonders further away from her as the optical centre of the painting, edges and details become progressively more blurred.
The fire in Francisco Pradilla’s Queen Juana the Mad Imprisoned in Tordesillas with her daughter, the Infanta Catalina (1906) tells its own story. The first Queen of Spain is shown during her effective imprisonment in the Convent of Santa Clara, in Tordesillas, north-west of Madrid in northern Spain. She was taken to that convent in 1509, and despite being co-monarch of Castile and Aragon with her son Charles I, she remained there until her death in 1555.
Pradilla shows her with her youngest daughter, Catherine (Catalina) of Austria (1507-1578), who married John III of Portugal and became its queen in 1525. The girl’s toys are scattered forlornly over the barren floor, and one of Juana’s maids sits spinning, as a pitifully small fire burns in the huge fireplace.
My last two paintings return to more modest and contemporary rooms, with their domesticated coal fires.
Among Douglas Fox Pitt’s views of domestic interiors, Interior with Maid from about 1913 is notable for its display of two of the artist’s collection of paintings by the Camden Town Group. Above the fireplace is Harold Gilman’s Norwegian Street Scene (Kirkegaten, Flekkerfjord) (1913), and above the bright cushion is Charles Ginner’s The Wet Street, Dieppe (1911).
Henry Tonks’ Sodales – Mr Steer and Mr Sickert (1930) shows two British painters in their old age: Philip Wilson Steer is dozing in front of the fire while Walter Sickert was visiting him at home in Cheyne Walk, London.
In the 1970s cheap natural gas from the North Sea brought central heating to many homes across Britain, and there has been a steady increase across the whole of northern Europe, at least until this winter, when old fires and stoves have suddenly become popular again.