Interior (The Red Chair) is one of the most striking of Cadell’ interiors of the 1920s, typifying his stylised images of the post-war years. Cadell’s 1920s interiors exemplify his stylistic change in the years following the war and are a direct contrast to the austerity of the post war years. Interior (The Red Chair) highlights Cadell’s brilliant balance of tightly composed design with flat applications of strong vivid colours creating a bold aesthetic. Cadell lived his life as richly as he painted his works and we can consider his lifestyle and painting style during his years in this period at 6 Ainslie Place as one of the same. His front door was painted a vivid ultramarine. His living room, which was also his studio, was kept meticulously clean. His furniture was brightly coloured and contemporary; the floor was painted a glossy black and the walls a rich mauve. The colour, organisation and structure of his home is clearly reflected in this wonderfully crisp and modern example.
Under the guidance of Arthur Melville, Cadell went to Paris at the age of sixteen and was educated at the liberal Académie Julien between 1899 and 1902. He would have been aware of the innovations of his French contemporaries: the Impressionists’ and Fauve works of Matisse were on view at the Musée du Luxembourg, Durand Ruel’s Gallery and Saille Caillebotte. The impact of seeing these paintings is clearly visible in Cadell’s interior paintings of the 1920s. Like Matisse and the Impressionists, Cadell and the other Scottish Colourists were influenced by Japanese art, employing the Japanese technique of using the frame to crop the composition, the method of which he uses to striking effect in Interior (The Red Chair). Cadell also, as seen in the present work, reduced shadow and impasto to create a series of flattened planes and bold patterns of colour, which reflects the influence of Japanese block prints embodies the Art Deco style.
Cadell’s use of the red chair became an iconic and important feature of this period. Painted red by Cadell to look like lacquer, the red chair in Interior (The Red Chair) is synonymous of interior design of the time and was most probably bought from Whytock and Reid, who were known for their quality craftsmanship. The chair forms the focus of many of Cadell’s interior paintings and portraits of this period appearing under a multitude of guises; his sitters position themselves on it in a formal portrait setting as seen in Portrait of a Man in Black (William Macdonald Esq); it becomes a prop in life painting as in The Boxer and Negro (Pensive) and we see it in the background of several interior scenes adding a shot of vivid colour, lifting the composition. Left empty in a room, often in the foreground, it forms a focal point. Indeed, Cadell managed to elevate the importance of the red chair and gave it the status of a commissioned portrait sitter.
When Cadell moved to Paris, it was possible that he saw the landmark van Gogh exhibition that was held at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in 1901. Cadell’s bright red chair, symbolic of his dandy tastes and style can be seen as a direct contrast to van Gogh who frequently painted his chair as a portrait of himself, albeit with a more modest outcome. Cadell’s placement of the red chair in the foreground of the work is also reminiscent of Matisse’s The Dessert, Harmony in Red. Both use the motif of the empty chair in the foreground, positioned to invite the viewer to join. Similarly, as Matisse includes the window onto the garden outside, Cadell incorporates a fashionable mirror on the far wall to comparable effect, extending the sense of space beyond the pictorial surface. The room design and painting style are synonymous: whilst Matisse’s garden extends the floral pattern on the table cloth and wall, Cadell’s mirror reflects his modern minimalistic interior.
Interior (The Red Chair) delightfully highlights Cadell’s concern with an almost abstract concept of space and perspective in his development of his exploration in the genre of the interior, which stood him out as one of the founding modern artists of 20th Century Scottish art. This newfound emphasis on the structural quality of his work was noted by the Daily Mail who favourably compared these new works with his earlier paintings: ‘Mr Cadell was apt to leave his pictures in a state of summary sketchiness which amounted to flippancy. He has solidified his style. All forms are stated with an assurance that carries conviction. He has passed from vague impression to architectonic organisation’ (quoted in T. Hewlett and D. Macmillan, F.C.B Cadell: The Life and Works of a Scottish Colourist, 1883-1937, Farnham, 2011. p. 90).