Interior, with its honest oak furniture, is a poignant reminder of the short and often tragic career of the mid-nineteenth century Scottish painter, George Paul Chalmers. The quiet gravity of the handling of the paint perfectly mirrors the dignity of the subject. This serenity makes the picture a happy complement to Carrick Hill's own collection of mellow oak furniture.
Interior is introspective. It reflects the character of the artist. Chalmers was frequently racked by bouts of nervous depression, and his life ended mysteriously in 1878. The cause of his death-murder or accident-has never been determined.
In this painting the artist's palette of browns and muted greens is subtly, yet effectively in contrast to the pure blue of the blue and white jug and the silver goblet. The loose brush¬strokes are in the manner of Chalmers's most trusted guide, Rembrandt. The use of chiaroscuro (distribution of light and shade) features here as a prominent device to accentuate the form of the cabinet and, to a lesser extent, the objects.
At a distance, the shape of the objects seems to be formed by the play of light and its shadow; details are suppressed for a general impression.
Closer to Interior we can see how these effects were produced. Blending of mixed paint, touches of colour and of white to accentuate certain features are delicately applied to achieve the overall effect. That effect evokes feelings of a calm yet mysterious, almost unnerving serenity.
It seems from the visible evidence that Interior was painted earlier in Chalmers's career rather than later. The loosening of his brush-stroke in later works leans heavily towards an 'impressionistic' style. For this reason, amongst others, he has often been termed a 'forward¬looking impressionist'. Because this painting directly reflects Rembrandt's influence, we attribute it to an earlier origin.
When George Paul Chalmers rejected his occupation as a grocer at the age of twenty, it was to pursue an early love of drawing at the Trustees' Academy in Edinburgh in 1853. As a student Chalmers studied the old masters, not by travelling abroad as many British artists do, but by making copies of the collection of fine paintings in the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh. Of these great painters Rembrandt became his exemplar.
Other influences on Chalmers were Turner, the Spanish artist Velazquez, and Veronese, the Venetian who used a dazzling palette of colours.
Chalmers was among a group of Scottish painters considered during the 1850s to be at the forefront of their generation. This group, including John Pettie and William Orchardson, were all pupils at the Trustees' Academy of Edinburgh under Robert Scott Lauder. Yet the group included such a wide variety of styles and techniques that to call them a 'school' of painters would be incorrect. They shared no common characteristic. However, their teacher Lauder impressed on these artists techniques in texture and colour, and what is most obvious in Chalmers, the feeling for chiaroscuro. Interior realises both the teaching of Lauder and the significant influence of Rembrandt.
It is known of George Paul Chalmers that, due to his frequent fits of depression, he often left canvases unfinished. Interior is no exception. It is most likely that the work was bought in Edinburgh, as the underside of the frame bears a label from an Edinburgh framers. It is possible that the painting is a Barr Smith inheritance. Scotland, the homeland of the Barr Smith family, continued to influence the family including Lady Hayward (nee Barr Smith). Often, objects of inheritance including paintings and furniture found their home within the walls of Carrick Hill. It is likely that Interior is one such painting.