Monday, 4 October 2021

Picture Post #68 The Sitting Room

by Martin Cohen


Photo credit: Micelo

There's something a little spooky about this picture, emphasised by the face in the mirror above the fireplace – but there too in the ‘empty chairs’. Where are their proud occupants? What did they talk about or do those long evenings in their high-ceilinged castle? For this is a room carefully restored (if not quite brought back to life) by some French enterprise or other.

Indeed the French – and English too – do seem to live in an imaginary past, of posh families in big chateaux / country houses with not much to do except count their silver cutlery. I think it's rather a sad way to live, and so perhaps it is appropriate that this picture seems to me to speak only of a rather forlorn and empty existence.

5 comments:

Keith said...

I don’t know if this is still a lived-in home, in which case my reaction is awfully prosaic: how terribly uncomfortable those stiff chairs look, as I feel my back starting to throb. Or if it’s a slice of restored history, in which case it reminds me of visits to historic estates toured around the world, slightly elevating my reaction: how vicariously interesting to fantasize about what took place, what was said, and how families’ lives played out as theater. All in all, none of that probably mattered in the grand scheme of things; but the mind wanders and wonders, nonetheless.

Tessa den Uyl said...

To me the picture does not appear spooky but rather like a European lifestyle. Indeed, why do we sit on chairs? And mirrors in the living room must be an idea about elegance to reflect the (fine) taste of the rich when formerly most people could not afford grand mirrors. The reflected face in the mirror might remember more flourishing times for the aristocracy, now exchanged by a different kind of upperclass which cannot represent the former, not by its culture nor their taste. Times have changed, is this what you mean Martin, that with the change of social-class accordingly should change the interior decoration of a house?

docmartincohen said...

Well, to me the picture conjured up thoughts of 'absence'. (Not of important people, no, Keith, just well-off French bourgeois…) This room was supposed to be impressive - yet it is really rather dingy. It is terribly unfashionable too - it might be called "rest-home chic"! The thing I found most appealing though was the coincidence of the picture on the mantelpiece - that to me makes the scene come to life a little bit. The 'ghost' face is looking at the empty chairs as if to say "Memento mori", This is Latin for 'remember that you will die', counted as an artistic or symbolic reminder of the inevitability of death.

docmartincohen said...

As for 'style', Tess's comment surprises me in suggesting that the style lives on! What aristocratic circles does Tess move in! Okay, we all have chairs, but not so many have these self-consciously 'period' pieces. And yes, mirrors on mantelpieces are a sensible design tool, but this mirror isn't attractive, in the manner of a furnishing that creates a sense of space and light. It acts rather as a kind of 'tromp l'oeil'. The picture in front of the mirror seems to be a trick within the trick!

Thomas Scarborough said...

It is rather muted in colour and style, which would seem to suggest a muted and homogeneous culture. The soaring ceiling, since it is uneconomical, would seem to suggest people with a sense of transcendence. Life is an occasion, they might say, not merely an existence. A muted culture, with a sense of occasion, seems somewhat paradoxical.

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