Call for Papers: Furnishing Elite Interiors, Old and New

Posted in Calls for Papers by Editor on March 20, 2011

Between the ‘Old’ and the ‘New’: Furnishing the Elite Interior 1740-1940
European Social Science History Conference (ESSHC), Glasgow, 11-14 April 2012

Proposals due by 1 May 2011

This ESSHC session examines European and North American market practice in order to address class difference and identification in the lust for the ‘new’ of the eighteenth-century elites and the desire for the ‘old’ amongst the aspirant middle classes thereafter. As Thomas Chippendale asserted in 1762, ‘The Title-Page has already called the following Work, The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director, as being calculated to assist the one in the Choice, and the other in the Execution of the Designs; which are so contrived, that if no one Drawing should singly answer the Gentleman’s Taste, there will yet be found a Variety of Hints, sufficient to construct a new one’. This suggests that furnishing the elite interior could be a collaborative process between patron and cabinetmaker/upholder, as witnessed in the demand for increasingly novel styles of furniture capable of integration into the new architect-designed interiors of the later eighteenth century.

For the nouveaux riches, or those like the Wynns of Nostell Priory and the Lascelles family of Harewood House whose wealth increased dramatically as the century progressed, taste (and thus class identity) was best expressed through the acquisition of fine art, furniture and other items to fill their new town and country houses. Once such families became part of the Establishment, with associated titles and influence, their original consumption practices became the model for the next generation of arrivisti and their ‘new’ objects became the desirable ‘antiques’ of the nineteenth century.

The attraction of ‘old stuff’ was a persistent theme in the many published guides to the decoration of the home in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. An influential example, particularly as it was addressed to the mistress of the house and therefore recognised the growing power of women as consumers, was Rhoda and Agnes Garrett’s Suggestions for House Decoration in Painting, Woodwork and Furniture (1877). In it they addressed the ‘charge of “Backward Ho!”’ brought against their recommendations for furniture purchases. ‘How often is the question asked, “Why do you admire this old stuff?” and how often do we feel we are being accused (silently perhaps) of liking a thing just because it is old’. The Garretts consciously aimed their advice at the rising middle class audience, ‘who require the aid of a cultivated and yet not extravagant decorator’ rather than those ‘who have lived in houses built by Inigo Jones, and whose walls are rich in paintings by the old masters’ for whom their book might ‘appear rudimentary and perhaps uncalled for’.

This session will explore the movement of meaning of domestic objects – the play between ‘old’ and ‘new’ across time and place – for the elite and those who aspired to join their ranks. We welcome specific case studies that might suggest a wider commercial practice and papers concerned with historic themes of class identity through consumption.

Dr Kerry Bristol
School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies
University of Leeds
Leeds, West Yorkshire
Email: k.a.c.bristol@leeds.ac.uk

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