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Tuesday 14 October 2008 – Sunday 22 February 2009
Choosing the Chintz draws upon new research about the home to tell a surprising story about domestic decoration and furnishing. A range of evidence, including compelling personal testimonies such as diaries and other archival materials, paintings, furniture, decorative arts, photographs, film, and trade catalogues, will be employed to explore men’s relationship with furnishing the home in the nineteenth century, illuminating the way in which they actively engaged with the look and feel of their homes. The exhibition will also focus on women and home decoration, highlighting the changes that took place to make them the prime marketing target for furnishings in the early twentieth century. Finally it asks how men and women go about choosing their furnishings today.

EXHIBITION OUTLINE: Men and their engagement with domestic furnishing, 1850-1900
In the nineteenth century, women’s role was frequently idealised as ‘the angel of the house’. But contrary to what we might assume, the decoration and furnishing of the home was not necessarily their responsibility alone. Husbands and wives made decorating decisions collaboratively, but men did not merely follow – sometimes, they seem to have led: documents in the archives provide an abundance of stories of husbands whose preferences determined the arrangement of interiors. Why did men care so much about dining-room chairs and nicely-arranged mantelpieces? Sir Edward Coke’s famous dictum – the Englishman’s home is his castle – testified to a man’s authority within his own four walls. The home, most obviously, served to convey a man’s wealth and standing. Where and how a man lived could do much to improve, consolidate or injure his social position. For those men who wished to demonstrate their aesthetic refinement, the home became a showplace. Cont’d/…

-2Numerous manuals produced during the second half of the nineteenth century advised on home furnishing and it was suggested that drawing rooms, associated with women, be furnished with light, feminine colours, objects and floral prints. Dining rooms, on the other hand, were associated with men and it was thought that these should be darker and furnished in mahogany. Traditionally, dining rooms were used by men for after dinner socialising while the women withdrew to the drawing room. Further rooms within the house such as the library, study and smoking room were seen as male domains, although apart from the study, unlikely to be found in any but larger middle-classes houses. The exhibition will use a range of objects, such as a doll’s house based on a genuine 1860s interior, trade catalogues showing dining and drawing rooms, and a ‘masculine’-style heavy mahogany and plush upholstered dining chair contrasted with a light, balloon-back drawing room side chair reflecting a ‘feminine’ style (1860). The ‘Cowtan’ wallpaper book, a rare and very informative object from 1860, shows examples of papers annotated with the intended room. Women and 1920s By the 1920s, at the very latest, there had been a decisive change, so much so that, according to Furnishings, the leading trade journal of the 1920s, “…woman is the purchaser of at least 90 per cent of the furnishings for the home.” The background to this decisive shift is complicated, but can be considered in light of the legal position of women, which changed considerably during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The passing of the Married Women’s Property Acts in 1882 and 1897 meant that wives could now retain control of the property they owned at marriage or which they acquired after marriage. This was an advance but wives were still constrained by restrictions on property holding: married women were debarred from contracting debts in their own name until the 1930s, when they gained the right to pledge their own credit. But the most notable legal change was that in 1917, after a long-standing suffrage campaign, parliament granted certain categories of women the right to vote: they were recognized as ‘potentially’ sensible people able to make rational decisions. The effect of this on domestic life included a gradual increase in the wife’s freedom to make decisions about what to buy and how much to spend on home decoration. Post war – more changes In the middle of the twentieth century, many married couples recognized a shift in their relationship and the interwar years saw the development of the idea of ‘companionate marriage’ in which companionship and domestic harmony were the ideal. The ideal of companionate marriage was very home-centred. Home was presented as a shared interest between husbands and wives, and its decoration and furnishing was increasingly presented as a joint enterprise. However, the reality was that, in many households in the middle decades of the century, roles within the home were quite sharply defined between men and women – the woman largely taking the lead in matters to do with furnishing and decoration. Today The ideal of family home-making as a shared enterprise has continued throughout the twentieth century and up to the present, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that partners share the same amount of power and responsibility in all areas. Particular areas of expertise continue to fall along lines of gender. Women today, as they have in the past, tend to take more of an interest in the soft furnishings while men may take a lead on ‘electronic stuff’. Cont’d/…

-3Recent interviews with couples about their roles in furnishing show that the harmony of the result depends on accepting different degrees of power and is achieved through numerous negotiations, compromises, agreements, manipulations and adjustments. Visitors will be shown photographs of people’s living rooms and will be invited to guess whose room it is. They can then read more about how those people make their decorating choices and give feedback about how they make their own. - ends NOTES TO EDITORS 1) For further information or images, please contact Nancy Loader, PR and Press Officer, on 020 7739 9893 or Choosing the Chintz Conference January or February 2009 (date to be confirmed) Speakers will include Deborah Cohen, author of Household Gods, The British and their possessions; historians Lesley Hoskins and Jane Hamlett; and Rena Sulieman, curator of Linley Sambourne House in west London. Choosing the Chintz has been co-curated by the Geffrye Museum and guest curators Dr Deborah Cohen, Dr Jane Hamlett and Lesley Hoskins. The Geffrye explores the home from 1600 to the present day. The museum’s focus is on the living rooms of the urban middle classes in England, particularly London. A chronological sequence of period rooms show how homes have been used and furnished over the past 400 years, reflecting the changes in society and patterns of behaviour as well as style, fashion and taste. The museum is set in the former almshouses of the Ironmongers’ Company, Grade th 1 listed, early 18 -century buildings. It is surrounded by attractive gardens, which include an award-winning herb garden and a series of period gardens showing the changing style of town gardens (open Apr through October). 5) Admission: Address: Tel No: Web: Email: Opening Hours: Travel: Tube: FREE 136 Kingsland Road, Shoreditch, London E2 020 7739 9893 Tuesday - Saturday 10am - 5pm, Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays 12noon - 5pm Buses: 149, 242, 243 or 67 Liverpool St, then bus 149 or 242/ Old St (exit 2), then bus 243




16 July 2008

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