Pre-Raphaelites in The City: Pre-Raphaelite Murder at the Geffrye Museum

Dinah Roe

Pre-Raphaelite Murder at the Geffrye Museum Witness the death of the Victorian Best Parlour

Arthur Lasenby Liberty, founder of Liberty & Co. on Regent Street, was memorialised as ‘The Man Who Killed the Best Parlour’ by introducing a whole new aesthetic to his aspirational middle-class customer. Liberty was inspired by London’s Pre-Raphaelite artists, who were not only his customers, but also part of his brand identity. Tapping into the market that Morris & Co had created, he offered unique luxury goods in an age of mass-production. Eclecticism became the watchword for drawing room decoration as the middle classes tried to outdo each other is displaying their newly-acquired ‘artistic’ taste.

Simple curtains replaced heavy valences and draping around windows. Floor-to-ceiling wallpaper gave way as the wall space was divided into three sections: frieze, dado and filling, with a different paper for each. Even the colour palette changed; soothing greens, browns, golds and blues replaced bright pinks and mauves. Britain’s Imperial reach and its increasingly global outlook were reflected in the appearance of Persian rugs and decorative objects such as Japanese vases, fans and teapots.

You can read about these fascinating changes in Thad Logan’s book The Victorian Parlour. But if you want to seize the opportunity to see the Aesthetic ‘murder’ of the Best Parlour in action, visit the Geffrye Museum. The Geffrye is a unique London museum displaying furniture, textiles, paintings and decorative arts in a series of period rooms from 1600 to the present day. While all the rooms are worth a visit, a comparison between the 1870 Drawing Room and the 1890 Drawing Room will interest the Pre-Raphaelite fan most. You will see firsthand how, in twenty short years, Pre-Raphaelitism and Aestheticism transformed the Victorian drawing room.

While you’re there, you can also take a stroll through the Museum’s period gardens and enjoy the building itself; a beautifully restored eighteenth-century almshouse. Admission is free. Click here for more details.

Responses

  1. Dinah - I love the post on the Geffrye’s Aesthetic Room!  It’s really interesting to think about how the Pre-Raphaelite Movement was commodified and consummed by the arty middle classes.  Thanks so much for the shout-out.  Alex x

    Alex Goddard responded at 05:35pm on 11/22/2011
  2. Thank you for the info on the Geffrye. I will definitely make a point ot visit on my next trip to the UK (followed by tea at Liberty’s of course). Loving the site and luxuriating in all things Pre-Raphaelite!

    Anne R responded at 09:28pm on 01/22/2012
  3. So glad you are enjoying the site!

    The Geffrye is definitely worth a visit, and while you’re in North London, you might consider taking a side-trip to Walthamstow to visit the William Morris Gallery (from July 2012) http://www.walthamforest.gov.uk/william-morris

    Dinah responded at 01:54pm on 02/05/2012

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Pre-Raphaelites in the City

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This blog explores the thriving Victorian cities which inspired the Pre-Raphaelites, and were shaped by them in turn. While the Pre-Raphaelites produced poetry and art praising the natural world, most were born and raised in urban environments, and their work retained a cosmopolitan sensibility. Although this blog will sometimes take excursions into the countryside, its focus will remain on city life. If you want more information on images or sources, please get in touch.