The Domestic Interior: 1600 to 1940
Postgraduate Research Day

Friday, 22 November 2002
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Jean Muir Seminar Room


Panel 1 – From Production to Consumption

Emma Ferry
Kingston University

Thesis: Gilding the Cage? Interior Decoration and the Professional 'Lady Expert' 1875 – 1885

Title of paper: ‘… information for the ignorant and aid for the advancing…’: Publishing the 'Art at Home' Series, 1876-1883

In these decorative days the volumes bring calm counsel and kindly suggestions, with information for the ignorant and aid for the advancing, that ought to help many a feeble, if well-meaning pilgrim along the weary road, at the end whereof, far off, lies the House Beautiful…
(Examiner, 1876)

Devised and edited by the Rev. W. J. Loftie, the 'Art at Home' series (1876–83) was a highly successful collection of domestic advice manuals aimed explicitly at a growing lower middle-class readership. Although the series was eventually expanded to encompass subjects as diverse as Amateur Theatricals and Sketching from Nature, the most significant of the final twelve volumes are those that deal exclusively with aspects of the domestic interior: Rhoda and Agnes Garretts’ Suggestions for House Decoration (1876); Mrs Orrinsmith’s The Drawing Room (1877); Mrs Loftie’s The Dining Room (1878) and Lady Barker’s The Bedroom and the Boudoir (1878). Written by upper-middle class women, who have been described as ‘professional advisers of the middle-classes’, these texts offer a range of advice based on both professional and personal experiences, which explain how to 'live' rather than simply describing how to furnish and decorate the home. Drawing on the Loftie correspondence with Macmillan held in the British Library, this paper discusses the dynamics of an Anglo-American publishing initiative undertaken by Macmillan of London and Porter & Coates of Philadelphia, which sought to exploit the tide of enthusiasm for house decoration on both sides of the Atlantic.

Elizabeth Kramer
School of Art History and Archaeology, The University of Manchester

Thesis: Living Artistically in Victorian England: The Role of Anglo-Japanese Textiles, 1862-1912

Title of paper: Passive Objects or Active Agents? Japanese Textiles and Women in the Victorian Home, 1870-1900

This paper will analyze the interplay between the uses of Japanese and Anglo-Japanese textiles in the ‘artistic’ decoration of British homes during the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the women who decorated these spaces.
In considering women’s roles as consumers and producers in the domestic sphere, this paper will address whether these women were active agents, artistically creating their environments and selves, passive agents in becoming beautiful objects to be admired, or whether there were elements of both at play. Victorian manuals and journals stressed the importance of women’s individual, creative and educated decisions in decorating their surroundings. Here women actively constructed an image of themselves as effortlessly creating the domestic interior and locating themselves within it as leisured and beautiful occupants of aesthetic spaces.
In considering the use of Japanese textiles in interior decoration, these textiles will serve as the interstice from which I investigate the ambiguity of boundaries of both culture and gender. The conflation of the Victorian construction of Japan as cultural Other and that of woman as societal Other in an effort to (re)assert gender and cultural polarities as a stabilizing mechanism in the face of the changes brought on by increased industry and contact between different nations during the late nineteenth century will be discussed.

Amanda Girling-Budd
History of Design, Royal College of Art

Thesis: Holland and Sons, A Nineteenth Century Furniture Firm and its Clients 1850-1885

Title of paper: The Meaning of Taste

This paper will examine some of the actual purchasing choices of Holland and Sons’ clients as expressed in the daybooks, and set them within the context of the lifestyle or habitus of the purchaser. Furnishings are not only an expression of individual taste. They reflect contemporary culture and they also serve to define cultural values in the ways in which they are used and perceived. Documentary evidence on the ways in which Holland and Sons clients viewed their possessions and domestic surroundings has proved difficult to find, but there are other sources such as diaries, letters and autobiographical works which reflect the meanings objects held for the writers. The paper will explore how these might be used to answer wider questions about nineteenth century taste systems.

Sarah Cheang
University of Sussex

Thesis: The Ownership and Collection of Chinese Material Culture by Women in Britain,1890-1939

Title of paper: Modern Women and Chinese Drawing Rooms: Feminity, Soul and Chinese Things in Early Twentieth Century Britain

Collecting is often equated with personal obsession - a manifestation of deep psychological concerns in which complex subjectivities are given substance. In John Galsworthy­s 1924 novel The White Monkey, a style-conscious young woman collects together an array of Chinese things ranging from footstools to paintings, nicely ‘rounded off’ by a Pekingese dog. Yet inversely, her motivations are found to be shallow and trivial rather than deeply felt. Furthermore, her fascination with Chinese things is not made to stand for personal subject formation, but for a modern society entirely lacking in soul.
This paper seeks to question such readings of feminine obsessions with China, taking as its theme the apparently ‘suspect’ nature of these emphatically domestic feminine interactions with Chinese material culture. Drawing from missionary and retailing archives, from novels and from magazines, the role of Chinese things within British domestic interiors will be reconsidered to take into account feminine interactions with specific events in Sino-British relations and overarching notions of class, of race, of the Orient and of womanhood. Thus it is hoped that gendered
understandings of collection, consumption, domestic space, and early twentieth-century meanings of ‘China’ will begin to displace the perceived spiritual and intellectual emptiness of the Chinese Drawing Room.

Problem panel – Reading Rooms and Representations

Jo Taylor
University College London, History of Art Department

Thesis: The Politics of Vision: Interplay between the Theatre and Perceptions of the Interior in the Seventeenth Century

Title of paper: Limitations and Possibilities: Perceptions of the Domestic Interior in the Seventeenth Century

I intend to explore what representations by 17th-century artists and architects share with contemporary theatrical presentation and design to gain an enriched reading of interiors, real and imagined. Central to my project is an existing body of scholarship on spatial conventions, perception and memoria (mnemotechnics; cf Frances Yates). I will develop this using 17th-century models of vision (projection, demarcation, mirroring) in order to explore spectatorship through an imagined/historical subjectivity – the visualisation of knowledge in the past.
The coherence, order and hierarchy of public and private in paintings will be discussed with reference to the uses of perspective and organisation of motifs and symbols. These principles will then be treated as articulating every-day life in some English manor-houses where 'cozening' space (through layout, decoration and rituals) allowed circulation and surveillance which formed multiple, sometimes mutually unaware, perspectives/subjectivities eg. Harvington Hall's priest-holes.

Jane Hamlett
Royal Holloway, University of London

Thesis: Gender and the Domestic Interior in the Late Nineteenth Century

Title of paper: What is the Use of the Photograph to the Study of the Domestic Interior?

This contribution will take a source-based approach to the problem of the use of the photograph. Using three late nineteenth-century examples; a photograph of the student room of a female Royal Holloway student, a photograph of the room of a Royal Holloway teacher, and a photograph of a male Oxbridge student, I will attempt to show some of the uses to which photographs can be put, illuminating issues including gender, age and social behaviour. It will also be shown how a photograph can be juxtaposed with other, written sources, including registrars and biographies, to gain a fuller understanding of the operation of taste and personality in the late nineteenth-century domestic interior. But I will also stress the difficulties presented by these photographs, highlighting ambiguities and in particular assessing the problem of the relationship between arrangement on the part of the photographer and ‘reality’.
The RHUL photographs, produced by an unknown photographer, demonstrate the difficulties of determining whose agenda a photograph reflects. Furthermore, the process of reading the photograph can be questioned; can a twenty-first century viewer ever really understand what is represented by a late nineteenth-century photograph?

John Hubbard
Department of Archaeology, University of Southampton

Thesis: Modelling and Re-modelling: William John Bankes, Charles Barry and the Idea of Kingston Lacy 1834-1855

Title of paper: Disclosing Intimacy: Approaching the Reading of Rooms as Personal Space

Whether 'mirrors of the soul' [Praz 1964], or the 'shelter for those things that make our life meaningful' [Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton 1981], the personal nature of domestic interiors is not in doubt. Their complexity can lead to the analytical fragmentation of an entity we perceive as a visual unity as well as separate parts. Neither, though, can individual rooms be understood in isolation from the spaces beyond their doors and windows.
If we agree that humans do map their life-experience and self onto the interiors they create, how might one 'read' the reflection of the individual in a composite collection that is a room? Is this possible as a focus of scholarship only through the analysis of fictional work, which has already edited and selected a range of metaphorical signs, rather than room design and contents and their associated archival matter, which forces a great deal more on our attention? This paper proposes two areas of consideration that might assist in disclosing the intimacy of interior spaces as psychological and biographical representations of past owners: bodily presence and the manipulation of scale.

Panel 2 – Imaginings and Experiences

Neil Armstrong
University of York

Thesis: ‘Our Greatest National Festival’: Christmas in Yorkshire, 1840-1914

Title of paper: Christmas and the Domestic Interior in the Nineteenth Century

In the nineteenth-popular imagination Christmas was dominated by a sentimental discourse of family reunion located around the domestic hearth. This paper will examine the role the domestic interior played in the creation of a heightened sense of intimacy at Christmas. Christmas witnessed a transformation of the domestic interior not only in aesthetic terms, through the medium of decorations, but also spatially, as interiors were temporarily altered to provide for formal
entertainment's such as theatrical productions, and also informal situations for phenomena such as child's play. If intimacy and domestic space are linked, then Christmas posed problems
for people in the nineteenth century, as the festival necessarily entailed the constant transgression of both physical and mental boundaries: an interplay of private and public celebrations. Concepts such as duty, work, consumerism, and the desire for entertainment constantly drew people out of the protective enclosure of the family gathering centred in domestic space, but also drew a range of people into the domestic interior who may have been considered outsiders. The creation of Christmas intimacy within the domestic interior was therefore a process to be negotiated, and one that was intersected by
the discourses of age, class, and gender.

Sara Thornton

Title of paper: The Topography of Childhood: Epistemological Structures in Henry James' 'What Maisie Knew'

This will explore how James constructs the domestic interior in 'What Maisie Knew', 1897, as a setting and a metaphor for Maisie's growing knowledge. It will analyse in particular James' use of interior architectural structures such as banisters, doors, cupboards and staircases, and their function in the narrative. It will also explore James' deployment of interior decoration as a method of representing social and class distinctions. It will aim to show how for Maisie the house becomes her epistemological as well as her physical space, and how James dissolves the conventional boundaries between social, mental and physical space. The paper will also consider the domestic interior as a gendered space and a space particularly associated with the bringing-up of children, and the manner in which James subverts and interrogates these assumptions. It will consider how the dysfunctional nature of Maisie's family is reflected and created by the living spaces the characters inhabit. It will also attempt to place James in the context of contemporary aesthetic theories and in the context of some of his other fiction, including his revision of 'What Maisie Knew' for the New York edition in 1908, in which he intensified the architectural references.

Fiona Hackney
Dept. Historical and Cultural Studies, Goldsmith’s College, University of London

Thesis: 'They Opened a Whole New World': Modernity, Femininity and Domesticity in British Women’s Magazines 1919-1939

Title of paper: 'Show me her kitchen and I will tell you the manner of woman she is': Representations and Readings of Domesticity in British Mass Market Women’s Ma
gazines in the 1920s and 1930s

No longer will you hide your kitchen away from the critical eyes of your Friends, yes, I mean critical! Every housewife is judged by the appearance of her home, and though the other rooms are important, it is your kitchen, the "back-stage" of your home that reflects your true personality. (Woman 30.10.37: 21)

As much a social and cultural construct as a structure of bricks and mortar, the modern home, and the housewife’s role within it, became the subject of intense debate in the inter-War period for a diverse range of groups and individuals from health reformers to domestic scientists, retailers, designers and, of course, the editors and journalists contributing to popular women’s magazines. Exhibitions were dedicated to the ideal home and glamorous modern interiors appeared in Hollywood film sets. Innovative flats designed for the special requirements of modern living were created by headline grabbing architects, while the developers of suburbia offered the equally alluring dream of home ownership
Using sociologist Erving Goffman’s theory of front stage and back stage in connection with the shift from perceptions of the home as a site of display to a place for the performance of personality, this paper will explore the ways in magazine editors and advertisers attempted to regulate the appearance and use of domestic environments. Material drawn from archive sources, oral history and autobiography will give a sense of what the changing ideals of home meant to individual women. Themes addressed will include the spectacle of the home and housewife, the fetishisation of cleanliness, and the renegotiation of notions of public and private space.

Panel 3 – Dwellings and Inhabitants

Ruth Larson
Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies, University of York

Thesis: The Domestic Role of Aristocratic Women in the Yorkshire Country House, 1685-1858

Title of paper: The Pleasures of the ‘homely ones’: Female Experiences of Domestic Life in the Eighteenth-Century Yorkshire Country House

In a letter written by Lady Frances Irwin to a friend she describes her joy at her family being ‘homely ones’, and this paper examines the pleasure that domestic life brought to the elite woman during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.1 Drawing on archival and visual sources from four Yorkshire houses, it studies the role that women played within the country house as wives, mothers and household managers. The joy that they gained from these roles will be highlighted, and the degree to which these duties were empowering for women will be studied.
The nature of the elite woman’s relationship within the domestic interior of the country house will also be assessed. I explore whether women’s domestic requirements shaped the country house and their perspectives of it, and the extent to which the architectural form of the buildings influenced their domestic roles.
The social history of the country house has often been overlooked, and with it, the position of aristocratic women within the house, and the role of the house as a family home. This paper highlights the importance of understanding the domestic function of the country house interior, and argues that the familial and homely role of the elite woman was not only one that they enjoyed, but was of central importance to the success of the aristocratic family.

Adrian Evans
Bristol University, School of Geographical Sciences

Thesis: Consumption and the Exotic in Early Modern England: A Socio-Material Investigation of the Retail, Domestic Ownership and Use of Exotic Goods in Suffolk and Bristol

Title of paper: From Passive ‘Buildings’ to Active ‘Dwellings’: Domestic Spaces in Eighteenth Century Suffolk and Bristol

This paper draws on a range of archival sources, including over 900 probate inventories of household possessions from Bristol and Suffolk (1714-53), to present an alternative account of the nature and significance of early eighteenth century domestic interiors. Whilst many previous empirically-based accounts have tended to adopt a ‘representational’ model of domestic space, in which domestic interiors are depicted as relatively passive backgrounds to actions (Brown 1986, Cruickshank and Burton 1990, Dyer 1981), this paper examines the potential benefits of conceptualising domestic spaces as ‘actants’ in their own right. Furthermore, it highlights the intimate connections between the forms of dwellings and the embodied skills, sensibilities and dispositions of their inhabitants (Heidegger 1962, Ingold 1995). In particular, this paper proposes three ways in which one can begin to move towards non-representational understandings of the importance of domestic spaces. First, I develop a more nuanced understanding of the relationships between early modern practices of room naming (signifying practices) and the networks of objects and activities (material practices) that were present in a given space. Second, I outline ways in which one can utilise the ostensibly static information recorded in inventories to gain important insights into a range of dynamic dwelling practices (cooking, dining, entertaining, displaying, etc.). Finally, I argue that rather than being mere actualisations of mental representations, novel domestic spaces (such as front stage parlours) gradually ‘emerged’ from the creative interactions between these different domestic practices/performances.

Hannah Greig
History, Royal Holloway

Title of paper: Private Palaces and Public Lives: Fashionable Elite Interiors in Eighteenth-Century London

During the eighteenth century, a magnificent, metropolitan residence was an indispensable requirement for members of London’s fashionable ‘beau monde’. A regular series of ‘at home’ entertainments in a suitable domestic setting were expected from those claiming membership of the ‘world of fashion’. The site of visits from powerful acquaintances, weekly assemblies and coming out balls, the elite town house was a space where political factions formed, social status claimed and engagements brokered.
Increasingly, prominent elite families built London residences specifically designed to meet the demands of metropolitan sociability. Other families, however, made do with rented accommodation rather than invest in a permanent property. Drawing on contemporary correspondence and household accounts, my paper will compare the interiors of London houses intended as dynastic mansions, and permanent symbols of a family’s metropolitan status, with the interiors of houses that provided short-term accommodation for elite figures seeking temporary acceptance within the beau monde. In doing so, the paper will explore the relationship of the elite domestic interior to displays of metropolitan status, the development of the interior according to the requirements of urban sociability and, given the politicised nature of life within the beau monde, the relationship between the town house and displays of political allegiance. Moreover, contemporary correspondence vividly conveys the gendered nature of responsibility for interior decoration. Whether a powerful matron offered advice to her children, a prominent politician directed his architect, or a newly-wed duchess designed her marital home, the full range of gendered roles within the development of the town house will be considered.

Julie Schlarman
University of Southampton

Thesis: Mapping Gender and Political Space: The Role of Architecture and Urban Forms -- London and Grosvenor Square 1720-1760

Title of paper: Spaces of Power: The Functioning of Interior space as Political Performance in the Early Eighteenth-Century London Townhouse -- Grosvenor Square 1720-1760

The ascension of George I in 1714 signalled a new era in the political structure of Great Britain. Many eighteenth-century urban developments in London were composed of men and women seeking a place in the Hanoverian court, and one of the largest and most influential was that of Grosvenor Square. As the key site for demonstrating one's commitment and participation in the political arena, the townhouse needed to function as a spatial and decorative indicator of these goals. This paper will explore the manner in which the spatial arrangement and interior décor of the Grosvenor Square townhouse regulated the performance of political assertion and aspiration.
This work has utilized a variety of evidence in the form of wills, inventories and 'schedules of fixtures', to reveal the significance of material culture in the assertion of personal power. Typical here is Paul Metheun's collection of Great Master paintings in his Grosvenor Street home which won both the attention of Queen Caroline and Metheun a place in court. The paper concludes with an examination of the vertical arrangement of the townhouse in which the staircase plays a key role as a visual and spatial platform for the performance of power and authority.