A retro-gendered room at Saltram

The Study at Saltram. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

When I was at Saltram to give the tour I mentioned in the previous post, I was struck by the delicious contradictions inherent in the Chinese wallpaper in the room called the Study. This room had been decorated in the mid eighteenth century as a bedroom or sitting room for one of the ladies of the house. Chinese wallaper and other ‘chinoiserie’ decorations were at this time increasingly associated with the private, ‘feminine’ spaces.

Portrait of Albert Parker, 3rd Earl of Morley, by Ellis Roberts. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

During the later nineteenth century, however, the 3rd Earl of Morley used the room as his study. Presumably the deccration was by then old fashioned and antiquarian enough to be congenial to a high-minded Victorian patriarch.

Old reference image of the fireplace wall in the Study. ©National Trust Collections

This is a great example of how the associations of certain styles and motifs are never fixed for long, and can turn into their opposites after a generation or two.

Even the original installation of the wallpaper represented a shift in meaning, of course, as entirely unrelated Chinese pictures and sections of wallpaper were slotted together into a kaleidoscopic collage, a realistic and yet surreal mosaic of elegant figures and evocative vistas, an eighteenth-century Pinterest board.

6 Responses to “A retro-gendered room at Saltram”

  1. 529scout Says:

    Oooooo I’ve just done a miniature Saltram post too….! http://529scout.com/2012/06/29/saltram-house-plymouth-devon/

  2. columnist Says:

    The “old reference image” is really rather good methinks.

  3. The Devoted Classicist Says:

    I have the greatest admiration for the decoration of this room with the carefully considered composition of panels framed with narrow painted battens. Perhaps it is that these scenes are not as dominated by flowers and birds, as sometimes is the case, that makes it less decidedly feminine?

    Is the green floor a fitted carpet?

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Ruth, that’s a great post, I like how the Polaroid-effect images add to the atmosphere of mellow grandeur of the Saloon.

    Columnist, yest those images were taken as part of an inventory project documenting all the fixtures and fittings at the historic houses of the National Trust, and as such they can be very useful.

    Classicist, yes you have a point that these scenes are more architectural, which may have helped to make them more acceptable to the 3rd Earl 🙂

    Interestingly, the images are divided by paper strips printed with a black key fret on dark green, probably of European manufacture (admittedly difficult to see in the photograph) – a bit like the European practice of adding precious metal mounts to Chinese and Japanese porcelain.

    And yes that is a fitted carpet, which I think is twentieth-century.

  5. style court Says:

    I think, too, the actual grid in black on dark green lends a slightly more masculine feel as opposed to a loose, sweeping all-over floral. But I may just be projecting since I know the room was retro-gendered 🙂

    The concept of retro-gendering or re-styling vs. re-decorating is fascinating. Wouldn’t it be great to have a book of rooms re-styled but not really re-decorated through several generations? Also love the comparison of the collaged scenes to Pinterest.

  6. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes that would make a fantastic book, visually interesting but also intellectually challenging, because it is all about people’s interpretations of visual elements and motifs.

    That also reminds me of the Borges story entitled ‘Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote’, in which Borges imagines a twentieth-century French writer who somehow manages to recreate the novel Don Quixote, the point being that Don Quixote as a twentieth-century French novel has a completely different meaning to Don Quixote as seventeenth-century Spanish novel. That slightly mind-bending concept is totally applicable to historical (and historicist) interiors, it seems to me 🙂

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