Both Private and Public: Perspective in Works from the Eugene Thaw Collection

by mitchellgallery

Interior with Curtained Bed Alcove, c.1853. Unknown Artist.

Bedroom of King Pedro IV of Portugal, Palace of Queluz, c.1850. Ferdinand Le Feubure

These two watercolor interiors from the Thaw Collection both depict bedrooms. Yet they do more than simply record the contents of these interiors. Each one demonstrates the capacity of an artwork to invite us inward, or, alternatively, to keep us at bay. The first painting above, Interior with a Curtained Bed Alcove, places the viewer inside the room. Yet, strangely, the perspective seems to be wider than that of someone standing firmly within it. Our position is roughly at the head of the bed, somewhere within the curtained alcove—-certainly it’s an intimate location. And yet, even though we stand within an enclosed area, the rest of the room somehow expands outward and upward in every direction. This particularly wide-angled view has the effect of both making it easier for us to enter the space, while also keeping our exact position ambiguous. As if we were floating, our eye can roam across the whole of every surface, taking in the pattern of the carpet, the expanse of picture-lined walls, and even the window ledge of the neighboring apartment outside the window. We are somehow both inside of and floating above the room. Though aware of the four walls that bound us, we feel almost able to pass through them to the building opposite. Our widened perspective allows us to sense the vastness that can exist inside even a small room. But instead of being repelled, we are invited inward.

Le Feubure’s watercolor of King Ferdinand IV’s bedroom makes use of a similarly ambiguous perspective. Here, the angle of vision is even wider—-so much so that we are prevented from occupying a space inside the vast room. The viewer seems to be gazing slightly downward, as if on a platform, yet can still see the greater part of the ceiling. Here, in contrast to the first painting, the sheer breadth of the perspective prevents us from entering into the room. All the same, being kept at bay here has its advantages. It’s only from such a distance that we can see the full expanse of the room’s carousel-like interior. From our vantage point, the gold detail and giddy, pastel colors look as if, at any moment, they might be set in motion.

These bedrooms are opened up to us, challenging our modern conception of the bedroom as a strictly private space. The drawings introduce us to the bedroom as a center of daily social (and even political) life, into which friends and even members of the court are invited. From these striking perspectives, the distinction between inside and outside, private and public, seems to blur.

Sophy Schulman—St. John’s College Student