Interior at Paddington

WAG 3134


The title ‘Interior at Paddington’ (sometimes known as ‘Interior Near Paddington) seems deliberately to diminish the significance of the human content that is so prominent in the painting. It is as though the figure of Harry Diamond (1924 - 2009) is regarded as less important than the overall containing room in which he stands. What also seems likely is that the painting was meant to have an air of menace and uncertainty. The pose that Harry Diamond adopts it in essence a mirror-image of the famous aggressive pose that was commonly used by Holbein (1497/8 - 1543) for his full-length portraits of Henry VIII (one such portrait of Henry VIII can be seen in Room 1 in the Walker Art Gallery). However instead of carrying gloves to betoken elegance Harry Diamond has a cigarette in one hand and his clenched fist is heavily nicotine stained. Instead of a rich velvet fur trimmed and silk-embroidered cloak he wears a drab dirty mackintosh. Freud's forthright and slightly seedy figure contrasts with the regal pedigree of the pose. Other quotations from famous past pictures also suggest themselves. The positioning of the window and balcony are redolent of several paintings made by Henri Matisse showing his Paris studio and the exterior glimpsed view from this studio off the bank of the River Seine in Paris looking towards the Isle de la Cite. Freud creates a mood of depression and neglect. His unrelenting scrutiny and the loitering figure outside add to the sense of unease. Freud has said 'the task of the artist is to make the human being uncomfortable.' The dominant positioning of the plant in the picture and the fact that Harry Diamond appears to be staring at it and almost squaring-up to it for a fight again leaves the viewer struggling for meaning. Such ambiguity and uncertainty on the part of the spectator may well have been part of Freud’s strategy for the picture and its reception. Freud's paint surface is distinctive - matt and unglossy - more like gouache than oil. There is a flat look to many of the passages of paint and he has used a rather hard circumscribing line to describe figure and objects. Nowadays he uses a much richer variety of often thick paint - evocative of Rubens or Constable - rather than say, as here, Mantegna. Overall the tone of the picture is cool - almost cold. This picture was commissioned in 1951 in connection with The Festival of Britain in 1951 and was Freud's first large-scale painting and his first major public commission. Harry Diamond was a friend of Freud’s who worked at scene-shifting and various other odd jobs and subsequently, in the 1960s, became a photographer. He modelled for this and another smaller picture that is now in the University of Liverpool collections. The setting is a room in Paddington, which at the time was a rundown part of London and where an artist could rent or buy space cheaply in order to set up a studio. The view out of the window is towards a wall that borders the Grand Union Canal. In front of the wall is a small boy staring towards the open window. The red carpet (which in reality had a pattern) was bought by Freud in a junk shop in the Harrow Road. The large plant is of a type related to the yucca. Harry Diamond came to Liverpool in 1979 and was commissioned to take various photographs of the city. While he was here he spoke to members of the gallery staff about the circumstances surrounding Freud's painting of this picture. His principal complaint was that he had been required by Freud to stand posing for six months.