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Alternative models of the period room A844 Geffrye Museum Blog 3.3.2 Exercise

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 Alternative models of the period room A844 Geffrye Museum Blog 3.3.2 Exercise

Now view ‘The collection and display of the period room’ recorded at the Geffrye Museum of the Home in East London.

While you view, consider the differences between the presentation of period rooms at the Geffrye and those Bryant describes at the V&A. Transcript in notes.

 The rooms are presented to be viewed via an absent fourth wall and any sense of the tactility of our experience of interiors is studiously removed. The objects look as if they have never been moved and never will be. One does not even have a sense of their maintenance by cleaning and so on. This robs the experience of any sense of the individual psychology of interior-making and ongoing evaluation or of shared social factors – family and the role, if any of servants. This is disguised too by an irritating focus on the ‘middling’ nature of social class presented across the rooms. We aren’t aware or made so by the curator that to be ‘middling’ probably meant very different things at each date (1630 – 1910) and that the scale on which the ‘middling classes’ appeared on was continually changing.

 The decision to organise rooms by date rather than ‘period’ at least admits to a kind of variability. I rather like Marjorie Quennell’s idea of peopling rooms with cut-outs. This created probably the necessary artificiality and theatricality and stopped anyone believing this was about what life felt like across a range of senses – a bit like a Brechtian alienation effect.

 The role of evidence in the recreation of rooms – largely written or published evidence & social records – probate inventories in the 18th C, later sales catalogues or retailer or manufacturers records of sale. The judicious use of recreating more ephemeral items like the 1910 lampshade is interesting.

 The 1910 room would make interesting comparison to Omega style in Bloomsbury but the latter comes from records covering feelings about interiors, including diaries, photographs, paintings (often of people in rooms where the room is incidental). The issue about being a contrast to shows ‘leaders of elite taste’ raised in the Discussion below, will have to be considered when looking at Omega, but it is more complex than a straight comparison. My interest is raised in ‘mantelpieces’ and the display of objects thereon – very important in cluttered Charleston.


Course Discussion

Like the V&A, the Geffrye now has a chronological span of rooms; however, these do not end in 1900 but go well into the twentieth century. Although the Geffrye’s rooms were always also intended to be educational, their focus was on objects associated with everyday life, rather than on design reform as at the V&A. This reflected Marjorie Quennell’s pioneering work on the education of young people and her emphasis on social rather than political history. It was she who arranged the collections in a sequence of period rooms and ‘peopled’ the spaces with painted boards of life-size figures. Nevertheless, it was tropes such as elite tradesmen including Chippendale and Thomas Sheraton that were used to distinguish the eighteenth-century rooms in the museum’s handbooks.

Although it retains the doll’s house model of viewing without a fourth wall, like the V&A the Geffrye now pays close attention to appropriate details and some rooms are based on surveys of actual sites. One key difference is that the Geffrye recreates room types of a particular date representing London’s middling sort rather than those of leaders of elite taste across Britain at the V&A, although at the V&A the Henrietta Street room represents a ‘polite’ drawing room rather than an aristocratic one.

For the furnishing of the early rooms the Geffrye makes particular use of probate inventories, whose reach, however, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was still limited to the wealthier half of the population and focused on moveable goods rather than fixtures such as wall coverings and chimneypieces.

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