Research the work of the Dutch Realist genre painters and choose two or three paintings that particularly appeal to you. Look at the devices employed to draw the viewer into the experience of the occupants of the room.
Johannes Vemeer (1632-1675)
A fairly obvious choice for looking at interiors, Vermeer was famous for his scenes of 17th Century domestic life.
Vemeer has used perspective to show depth and space in the room. His subjects appear to be unaware of his gaze and the interior itself is almost as important. The light from the window illuminates the figures and elevates them as the focal point, as does the tiled floor guiding the eye towards them. Adding in the table with its detailed cloth and jug, chair and cello gives a narrative to what could have been a static pose.
Pieter de Hooch (1629-1684)
A contemporary of Vemeer, de Hooch is not so familiar to me. However, he also was known for painting interiors, with the specific device of looking through an open door.
This painting is a realistic looking scene of a group of card players. The light is expertly and convincingly painted from the outside to in, the sheen on the door and the cast sunlight coming in through the door on to the floor points to the room’s occupants. Again the chequered tiles draw the eye to them and also on out to the courtyard, introducing the advancing figure to the story. The offset placement of the key figures give it a realistic composition, with one figure standing adding to the scale of the room and its contents. The more I look at this the more I like it. Its colours are fairly neutral but for the few flashes of red to lift its impact.
Look at interiors that have been painted by various artists from different periods. Look especially at how illusions of space have been created, how doorways and windows form a part of the composition and how furniture and objects are depicted either as a central focus for the painting or as secondary to any human drama.
Mr & Mrs Clark and Percy (1970-71) by David Hockney (b 1937)
This painting is a portrait of the artist’s friends, however, it says so much more. It is well documented that the sitters were not getting along too well at the time and the placement of the figures in their setting does give the impression of division. The open door not only creates a barrier but seems to be offering a means of escape – if only for Percy the cat! Placing the figures against the light of the open door does not throw them into the spotlight but seems to make them become part of the interior being contre jour.
Robert Louis Stevenson and his Wife (1885) by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925)
Sargent has given a sense of space through open doors in this painting and then taken it away again by adding the gloom of the hallway and the seemingly unobtainable exit by the front door. The direction of the floor boards lead away into the dark, foreboding, hallway. I always forget that this image includes Stevenson’s wife as she blends into the interior so well I think she’s part of the furniture – she almost appears to be hiding! The rug on the floor is horizontal and Stevenson is pacing (I imagine) back and forth deep in thought and has been caught mid ponder.