Patrick Caulfield

Interior with a Picture


Not on display

Patrick Caulfield 1936–2005
Acrylic paint on canvas
Support: 2058 × 2442 mm
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of tax and allocated to the Tate Gallery 1996


In such paintings as After Lunch 1975 (Tate T02033) Patrick Caulfield's investigation into the nature of pictorial representation was staged within a highly contrived but spatially logical composition. However, during the mid to late 1980s, as is evident in Interior with a Picture, the stabilising element of rational pictorial space was discarded, and varied textures and a uniformly warm palette were introduced.

The black descriptive line, which had been the primary means of defining form and space in earlier paintings, is used sparingly in Interior with a Picture. In fact, only the corner of the corridor, the dado-rail and the banister are described by a black line. For most of the picture Caulfield uses flat blocks of colour to suggest form and space. The juxtaposition of these two styles contributes to the uncertainty surrounding the relationship of the staircase to the rest of the interior, the position of the still-life painting in relation to the wall, and the precise arrangement of the floor level.

In addition to these styles, the still life picture in the upper centre introduces realism. The image is copied from an illustration of Meal by Candlelight (Hessisches Landesmuseum Collection, Darmstadt) by the German seventeenth century painter Gottfried von Wedig (1583-1641), which Caulfield had found in Charles Sterling's book Still Life Painting from Antiquity to the Present Time. In his version of the painting Caulfield has enlarged the book illustration of von Wedig's picture to approximately the same size as the original and then painted a modern frame around it. The flat yellow shaft of light that illuminates the painting contrasts with the subtle modulations of light within the still life itself.

Directly below this highly illusionistic passage of painting is an oval motif, perhaps a mirror frame, formed from three thick strands of acrylic paint squeezed from the paint tube onto the canvas. The dialogue between two dimensional, naturalistic representation and three-dimensional reality is a common theme in Caulfield's work during this period, and part of his wider exploration of the artifice of painting.

Further reading:
Patrick Caulfield, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London 1999, reproduced p.97, (colour)
Jennifer Mundy (ed.), Brancusi to Beuys: Works from the Ted Power Collection, London 1996, p.60, reproduced p.61 (colour)

Toby Treves
November 2000

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Display caption

Caulfield explores different styles of representation, subverting our expectations about what is real and what is illusory. The scene features a picture-within-a-picture, a device common in his work. The carefully copied source of the still life is Meal by Candlelight, by the seventeenth-century German artist Gottfried von Wedig. Candles often appeared in vanitas paintings, symbolising the brevity of human existence. Because of the abstracted style used for the setting, the painting appears more ‘real’ than the space in which it hangs.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Technique and condition

Patrick Caufield’s Interior with a Picture was painted in acrylic emulsion on canvas. The support comprises of a single piece of cotton duck canvas that was attached to an expandable softwood stretcher with wire staples at the rear. Once stretched at least one layer of white acrylic emulsion gesso was applied by the artist as a priming to the front and edges of the canvas.

Caufield has produced a range of effects and surfaces exclusively using acrylic emulsion paint. As Caulfield puts it, 'you can do anything with acrylic. In one painting I can do different styles' (Crook, Jo and Learner, Tom, The Impact of Modern Paints, 2000, Tate Publishing Ltd.). The background wallpaper mimics a flocked paper surface, ‘I copied the wallpaper you see in Indian restaurants, and I bought a roll of it from a shop in Brewer Street.’ The red pattern in the wallpaper is raised slightly by small dabs of impasto paint. The artist has also incorporated blue highlights into the effect, ‘I wanted to give it a bit of a lift without the blue I thought it would be too flat.’

The painting in the subject was copied from an illustration of Meal by Candlelight by Gotthardt de Wedig (1583-1641). The illustration was squared up using cotton thread and enlarged slightly onto the canvas. Many of the straight edges were created with the assistance of masking tape. The oval shape beneath the dado rail was made by squeezing a white acrylic texture paste directly from the tube and following a line previously marked on the surface. This was then painted over with colour after it had dried, ‘which took a bit of time, usually over night, because it was so thick’. Caulfield found that the thickly squeezed line of paint had to be done with the painting positioned on the flat, ‘and you have to work out if you can reach! It is very difficult to keep the pressure on the tube consistent’. Minor irregularities were clearly part of the effect too, ‘I don’t mind it not being precise, as it’s really representing plasterwork which chips – instant patina!’

The painting is not varnished and a new L-section frame was made soon after its acquisition.

The painting is in excellent condition but it is vulnerable to scratches and finger marks and therefore should always be displayed behind a barrier.

Tom Learner
August 2000

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