Archive for the ‘Doll’s houses’ Category

Seventeenth-century photo-shoots

August 12, 2014
The dolls house of Petronella Oortman, c.1686-c.1710, in the Rijks Museum, inv. no. BK-NM-1010. Image in the public domain, supplied by the Rijks Museum.

The dolls house of Petronella Oortman, c.1686-c.1710, in the Rijks Museum, inv. no. BK-NM-1010. Image in the public domain, supplied by the Rijks Museum.

Last week I visited the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam, which I hadn’t seen yet since its reopening in 2013. I was impressed: by the new entrance courtyards, the layout, the helpful staff, the paint colours, the restored murals, the display cases and the text labels. And last but not least by the objects, which sing out in their greatly improved environment.

'Tapestry room' in the dolls house of Petronella Oortman. The 'flamestitch' textiles seen here have not survived as wall hangings in real houses. Image in the public domain, supplied by the Rijks Museum.

‘Tapestry room’ in the dolls house of Petronella Oortman. The ‘flamestitch’ textiles seen here have not survived as wall hangings in real houses. Image in the public domain, supplied by the Rijks Museum.

One of the things I had a good look at was the dolls house of Petronella Oortman, which was created between about 1686 and 1710. Like the big dolls houses at Nostell Priory and Uppark it provides a wonderful insight into the taste of its period. Objects or practices which have been lost in actual historic houses can still be encountered here. It is almost like a seventeenth-century photo-shoot.

Kitchen in the dolls house of Petronella Oortman, showing the painted silk screens set into the windows above the dresser. Image in the public domain, supplied by the Rijks Museum.

Kitchen in the dolls house of Petronella Oortman, showing the painted silk screens set into the windows above the dresser. Image in the public domain, supplied by the Rijks Museum.

Textiles, in particular, have often been lost from historic interiors through wear and tear and light damage, but in these dolls houses you can still see what kind of squab cushions they had and what the bed curtains looked like.

Chinese picture on paper depicting a scene in a palace or mansion garden, in a European rococo frame, at Shugborough Hall, inv. no. 1271100.4. ©National Trust/Sophia Farley

Chinese picture on paper depicting a scene in a palace or mansion garden, in a European rococo frame, at Shugborough Hall, inv. no. 1271100.4. ©National Trust/Sophia Farley

I was intrigued by the miniature representations of the pieces of silk stretched on wooden frameworks, called sassinetten, which were set into window embrasures of Dutch houses at that time. Presumably they were meant to increase privacy while still letting in the light. No full-size examples seem to have survived, as they would have deteriorated fairly quickly in the sunlight. But the painted decoration seen on some of the miniature screens in the Oortman dolls house is clearly in the Chinese style (and is similar to the scenes in the Chinese pictures at Shugborough Hall, for example). So did they use imported Chinese pictures on silk for these screens, I wonder?

Chinese picture on paper depicting a scene in a palace or mansion garden, in a European rococo frame, at Shugborough Hall, inv. no. 1271100.5. ©National Trust/Sophia Farley

Chinese picture on paper depicting a scene in a palace or mansion garden, in a European rococo frame, at Shugborough Hall, inv. no. 1271100.5. ©National Trust/Sophia Farley

And if the painted silk on some or all of these window screens was indeed Chinese, should they then be counted among the precursors of Chinese wallpaper? We tend to think that the development of panoramic Chinese wallpaper for the European market was preceded by the use of separate Chinese prints and pictures as wall decoration in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. These sassinetten may have been one expression of that taste.

Opening up the Uppark dolls house

January 15, 2013
The Uppark dolls house. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The Uppark dolls house. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Last week I joined a group of colleagues to discuss how we can better understand the dolls house at Uppark. This dolls house is a large miniature house that is also a piece of furniture, a toy and a work of art. It is a distinct object, but at the same time it is also a whole collection of very diverse objects. It is in effect a historic house with almost all of the contents from the time of its creation.

Four rooms in the Uppark dolls house, clockwise from top left: the Drawing Room, the Dining Room, the Staircase Hall and the Kitchen. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Four rooms in the Uppark dolls house, clockwise from top left: the Drawing Room, the Dining Room, the Staircase Hall and the Kitchen. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The dolls house dates from the late 1730s and came to Uppark with Sarah Lethieullier, who married Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh in 1746. But apart from that not much is known about it.

Close-up of the Dining Room in the Uppark dolls house. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Close-up of the Dining Room in the Uppark dolls house. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Who originally commissioned it – Sarah Lethieullier or perhaps another member of her family?  What motivated its creation? Was it a genteel amusement for the ladies of the family? Was it intended just for adults or also for children?

Close-up of the Principal Bedroom in the Uppark dolls house. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Close-up of the Principal Bedroom in the Uppark dolls house. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Was an architect involved in its creation, perhaps James Paine? Can we find out who supplied some of the contents – the furniture, the paintings, the household objects, the costumed dolls? Were its walls originally decorated with different colours and materials rather than in the uniform white we can see today? What can it tell us about early Georgian interior decoration and the life in a grand house?

Close-up of the Kitchen in the Uppark dolls house. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Close-up of the Kitchen in the Uppark dolls house. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

It will take time and research by a number of different experts to try answer these questions. One avenue of investigation will be to compare the Uppark dolls house with the more or less contemporary dolls house at Nostell Priory, and also with with the 17th century dolls houses surviving in the Netherlands, such as those created by Petronella Dunois and Petronella Oortman. Ultimately, the aim of the project is to make the Uppark dolls house better understood and better known.

Precious commodities

November 3, 2011

Pair of silver tea caddies engraved with the arms of Featherstonhaugh impaling Lehtieullier, 1767. ©Sotheby's

I am delighted to be able to announce that we purchased this pair of silver tea caddies at auction at Sotheby’s in London yesterday. They are engraved with the arms of Sir Matthew Featherstonhaugh and his wife Sarah, who lived at Uppark in West Sussex, and are dated to 1767.

The purchase was supported by a fund set up by the late Simon Sainsbury as well as by other gifts and bequests to the National Trust.

Pair of silver salvers similarly engraved with the Featherstonhaugh and Lethieullier arms, 1746, acquired by the National Trust for Uppark in 2010. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The shape of the caddies – almost like milk churns – is unusual. The very obvious locks are testament to the still relatively high value of tea at that time. Presumably the keys would have been carried by Lady Featherstonhaugh herself, as she would have presided over the serving of tea to her guests.

The dining room in the Uppark late-1730s doll's house, which includes a miniature silver porringer and monteith, both hallmarked. ©NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie

Just last year we managed to buy a pair of silver salvers that had also belonged to Sir Matthew and his wife. Some more silver can be glimpsed in the dining room of Sarah’s grand and beautifully made dolls house, which was originally created in the late 1730s.


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