What Story Does This Tell?

There’s an old saying that “every picture tells a story.” I think some paintings are better at storytelling than others, because they spark more questions in my mind than answers. Here’s an example of such a painting:

“The Staircase of the London Residence of the Painter” by Pieter Christoffel Wonder.

The piece is titled “The Staircase of the London Residence of the Painter” by Pieter Christoffel Wonder.

To begin, may I just point out that the artist’s surname has a touch of the whimsical about it? It’s an ideal name for an artist!

Now, back to the painting:

At first glance it looks like a nice interior of the entry hall of a Regency gentleman’s residence, but my eye is drawn to the detail of the cased clock on the stair landing and the lamp suspended from the arch.

Detail of a portion of the painting that shows a tall case clock on the landing of the staircase. Nearby is a lamp hanging from a ceiling hook, through which is strung a long red rope with a large red tassel at the end.

I wonder what servant is responsible for winding the clock? And which servant carefully guides the red rope as he lowers the lamp every evening so it can be lit as the sun goes down?

Oh, the Details!

I love the wide floorboards and the exquisite details of the mouldings and paneling. They make me feel like I want to live in this house, too. They’re also a reminder to me that those are details of craftsmanship that are rarely found in the cookie-cutter homes we live in today.

A Young Man, Fashionably Dressed.

Our gentleman has brass buttons galore! Shiny buttons adorn our gentleman’s coat and the cuffs of his breeches. What’s interesting to me is that at first glance I thought he was wearing two-toned top boots. Instead, our young gentleman is wearing spats to protect his snow-white stockings and polished shoes. I think it suggests that he just came into the house from the out-of-doors (or is about to make his way out).

Close-up showing details of spats. They extend from just below his knee down to cover the back and top of his foot. They button up the length of his thigh. the part that extends across the top of his shoe is kept in place by a buckled strap that goes under the arch of his shoe.

The fact that he’s holding his hat reinforces that suggestion. I like the detail showing the liner inside his beaver-style top hat. The distance between the top of the liner and the crown of the hat hints at how tall his top hat was (his appears to be rather modest in height).

Close-up of the gentleman's legs, showing his above-the-knee white stockings are almost covered by brown leather or suede spats that button up the outside of this thigh.

A Fashionable London Home.

On the stair landing is a small glimpse of a window ledge that holds a small potted plant. For some reason, that little touch of greenery makes me wonder if there might be a Mrs. Young Man.

Close-up detail of the stair landing where a small section of a window is visible. On the ledge is a red pot with a small green plant.

I also noticed there’s a short stair that leads down to the open door; through it we can see a garden, instead of a street scene. That suggests our view is toward the back of the house. I wonder how unusual it was for a London residence to have a patch of lawn and a garden attached?

Detail showing the open door at the back of the house, where a small table holds two pots of plants. Beyond is a grove of leafy trees.

Our young gentleman is beckoning to a sweet little dog. I like to think she (or he) is a pet that rules the household (much like my little dog does) and is always on hand to greet our young gentleman when he comes home.

Close-up showing the gentleman's hand slightly reaching toward a small spaniel descending the stairs.

Another interesting detail is the entry table on the left; on top of the table are a dead rabbit and two dead birds:

Image of a dead rabbit and two dead birds lying on the table. A hand-written paper tag is tied to one of the rabbit's legs.

The hand-written tag tied to the rabbit’s hind leg suggests they were purchased from a traveling peddler or were just recently delivered from a butcher’s shop.

Either way, I wonder why they were left in the front hall on the very table where guests lay their calling cards, gloves and hats?

Despite all my questions and wondering, I think this image gives us some great insights into what life was like in a Regency era household—or, at least, into life inside the front hall of a fashionable gentleman’s residence. It’s one of my favorite depictions of the era!

What observations do you have about this image?

Have you ever found yourself wondering about the stories behind an appealing work of art?

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