Five fabulous fireside paintings

Five fabulous fireside paintings

20 Dec 2021

Keep the cold at bay with these works of art that invoke the symbolism of the fire, from comedic cartoons to religious scenes

Vincent van Gogh, Peasant Woman Cooking by a Fireplace, 1885

The warm, earthy tones used here are more realistic than the vibrant palettes seen in pieces such as The Starry Night and the Sunflower series. Painted around the same time as the better-known The Potato Eaters, it demonstrates Van Gogh’s commitment to accurately portraying the lives of local peasants. Although the work was completed in late spring, it calls to mind shadowy winter nights, where the fireplace not only operates as a stove, but as a vital source of warmth and light. 

William Hogarth, Marriage A-la-Mode: 2, The Tête à Tête, c.1743

In this allegory of the ills of marrying for money rather than love, the bride stretches out after a night of cards, in a room that speaks of the debauchery that took place. Here, the fireplace is a symbol of status and wealth, displaying Chinese porcelain and figurines, a bust of a disapproving Roman matron and a painting of Cupid playing bagpipes among the ruins. The embers of the fire still crackle happily, although it seems the spark of romance has already been snuffed out. 

Studio of Rembrandt, The Holy Family with St Anne, 1640

In this contemporary representation of the Holy Family, mother and child appear with St Anne in a domestic setting, which would have been recognisable as a fairly ordinary house of the period. Here, it is not the impressive hearth – surrounded by cooking implements and vegetables – that illuminates them, but the warming sunlight that streams through the window, casting a divine glow over the trio. 

Joachim Beuckelaer, The Well-stocked Kitchen, with Jesus in the House of Martha and Mary in the Background, 1566

This abundant painting sees the smoking fire sidelined in favour of a lavish feast that is in preparation (complete with a bird ready to be roasted). One cannot help being dazzled by this tantalising explosion of meats and vegetables, yet the seductive scene is not the true focus of the piece. In the distance, Jesus can be seen visiting Martha and Mary, suggesting that the riches of worldly temptation are a distraction from the true path of God. 

Félix Vallotton, Nude in Front of a Stove, 1900

This provocative image by Swiss-French painter Félix Vallotton depicts an intimate moment in which a woman warms herself in a shadowy living room. The artist was known for creating interior scenes that spoke to the ambiguity and secrecy of everyday life, placing emphasis on architectural shapes and decorative elements such as clothing and interiors to tell his stories. In this instance, the narrative and identity of the figure is unclear, but the intensity of the image is unmistakable.

About the Author

Holly Black

Holly Black is The Arts Society's Digital Editor


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