Catalogue entry

T01914 STUDIO INTERIOR, HAMPSTEAD 1918

Not inscribed
Oil on paper laid on hardboard, 28 1/8×20 1/8 (71.5×51)
Purchased from the artist (Gytha Trust) 1974
Exh: The Carline Family, Leicester Galleries, May–June 1971 (39) as ‘Interior of the Studio’; The Spencers and the Carlines in Hampstead in the 1920s, Odney Club, Cookham, May–June 1973 (Richard Carline section, 1) as ‘Interior of Studio at 14a Downshire Hill’; Painting 1914–24, South London Art Gallery, May–June 1974 (21) as ‘Studio Interior’

The following information was provided by the artist in a letter to the compiler of 13 January 1975.

From September 1917 to March or April 1918 the artist was employed by the Air Ministry (Training Brigade) to paint on canvas large ground surveys of war zones in France as seen from the air for use in air and artillery practice. On his appointment he was told he could obtain his own studio and as a result rented 14a Downshire Hill, the interior of which is depicted in T01914.

‘It was formerly the school for the church on the other side of the road. Our house (parents and sister and elder brother George lived at 47 Downshire Hill, as I did during this work-my brother Sydney only when on leave)... Being a long hall, I divided it in half, using only the front half and the rear half became Sydney's studio, when he returned. Subsequently, we bought the whole place, and both of us continued to use our respective studios until Sydney died in 1929, and soon after that I decided to give it up and used a top room as studio at 47 Downshire Hill (i.e. about 1931)’.

In the intervening periods of two or three weeks between the completion of one ground survey and the ordering of the next, Carline wrote: ‘I was able to turn to painting for myself, and under these circumstances, the Studio Interior was, perhaps one of the first sizeable pictures I was able to paint since the outbreak of War.’

Both front and rear studios were very large, having their own entrance, a baywindow and skylight, and fire-place. ‘Furnishing was mainly utilitarian, apart from curtains or textiles which were exotic, i.e. oriental, African or South Seas. As far as I recall the dark grey background in the picture was an extremely large screen, which was in four folding sections. It was there in the studio when I took it, being too large to remove. The covering was a sort of oil cloth with an “art nouveau” pattern, probably about 1870 or '80. Since to begin with the two studios were only divided by huge heavy curtains, this screen gave an added means of separation, and formed the inevitable background, looking towards the rear, away from the bay window. The plain wooden deal table was handy for one's paints, brushes, etc., though I had another larger table.’

T01914 was painted on coarse paper, already primed neutral grey, which the artist found ‘favourable ... since the subject was dark with only some light areas’. Primed canvas, he recalled, was not plentiful during the First World War, but although he had a roll of this primed paper, he did not use it often and no longer possesses any works made on it. In the early 1960s he had the painting laid down on hardboard because the border areas round the composition were not large enough to bear stretching, subsequently touching-up any damaged areas and then varnishing it. He wrote in this connection ‘The important point is that one had to find canvas or material which would fit the shape and size of one's intended composition. On no account could one adapt the composition to the material available. I probably wanted to paint the studio interior as large as I could’.

Carline does not recall making any preliminary studies for this work and suggested that he ‘would have prepared the composition directly either in charcoal or paint’, the more so since in this case the painting was made from sight. Neither would any previous arrangement of the objects to be depicted have been necessary: ‘I have always been interested in still-life, rather in the sense of the drama of relationships between different objects (... as between humans ...) with their individual characters and textures, rather than simply to contrast textures. Hence I never artificially arranged a still-life group or objects in the interior of the studio. The objects had to be interpreted and seen exactly as they happened to be.’

In reply to questions about his choice of subject matter Carline wrote: 'I suppose I can best answer this by stating that actuality, however common-place or “banal” was part of one's philosophy, regarding art as divorced from the concept of “the paintable” or “the picturesque”. I wished to paint what I saw without consideration of what might prove attractive or decorative. I realise that this constitutes one reason why my pictures often proved not very saleable. The absence of any obviously decorative element was source of appeal rather than the other way.

‘You ask whether this was alone or whether I did such subjects often. The answer is yes. In still-life subjects, where a flower might add to the attraction it would be omitted and the glass or vase shown empty because it happened to be so.’

Among several paintings comparable in subject matter, the artist mentioned a painting of the kitchen sink at 47 Downshire Hill, ‘with unwashed bowls and dishes’ from 1922–3 (Private Collection), another painting of the same subject (formerly belonging to Wilfred Evill present whereabouts uncertain) and a panel depicting the kitchen table which belonged to Sir Stanley Spencer (‘now apparently lost’). ‘An analagous type of still-life, but out of doors, which I greatly favoured, was of grave stones. There were so many paintings of what one might call plain subjects that I cannot mention them all or even recall them.’

Other paintings of the studio by Carline include ‘In the studio, Downshire Hill, with a sleeping cat’ (1926), which included an iron bed, the purple cat asleep on it, and ‘Rush chair in studio window, Hampstead’ (1924). The same screen appears in the background of a drawing in coloured inks, ‘The studio in Downshire Hill’ (1926).

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1974-6: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1978