Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Pehr Hilleström's Kitchen

Pehr Hilleström was a Swedish artist with whom we can thank for creating many delightful genre paintings (scenes of everyday life) that easily transform the viewer in the late 18th century Sweden.  While many of his paintings depict the high life, A Maid Taking Soup from a Cauldron shows a servant in a transitional phrase, transferring soup into porcelain before it is taken to those upstairs in what we can only assume to be in an opulent setting. 

Although the small scene shows a rather simplistic kitchen we can still learn about the historical kitchen from it.  The painting centers around the hearth.  This particular hearth has a space for the storage of logs underneath with the actual fireplace/working area at waist level.  Imagine cooking on your counter tops! If we zoom in on the scene we can see that, like any good cook, there are many things cooking amongst the burning logs.  To the left is a trivet, a three-legged stand used to support cooking vessels such as kettles.  If the concept of working in a work area that consists of burning logs seems slightly hazardous remember most servants wore wool which was not as flammable as cotton and their hands became accustomed to the strong heat such as blacksmiths' would.  Sometimes hearths like this one would have a small opening on the side, a baking oven.  Embers from the fire would be placed in here to heat up the oven and then removed when the oven was hot enough to begin baking. 

On the mantle are more common tools which seems oddly out of easy reach.  On the left is a mortar and pestle to grind spices.  To the right is a coffee grinder, further showing that the home owner is someone who is well-to-do. 

On the floor is the one kitchen item that seems out of place, a large copper kettle or perhaps even bake-kettle (Dutch Oven).  While everything else in the kitchen is organized and in place this one giant pot is on its side just waiting for a rushing servant to trip over it.  Perhaps the pot has just been washed and is drying in this strange place on the floor.  Or perhaps it is a reference to a Chardin painting which also has the same large tripping hazard. 

Like any well-planned kitchen this one is tiled for easy cleaning.  Notice the fancy-handled broom in the corner; a clean kitchen is necessary for producing yummy food.  Now all it needs is the precursor to the vacuum-cleaner: the kitchen dog!


  1. I love to see domestic scenes. They tell so much more about the life and customs than "posed" portraits. This has such a warm and cosy feel. I worked in an Italian restaurant that had a similar set up for the pizza oven. The logs were stored beneath the cooking area. Very hot!!!

  2. I also love these domestic scenes. About the copper pots -- I suspect this is the artist showing off his skill, rather than a true kitchen arrangement.


  4. Read that comment and it made me LOL in a public area!