Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Home Beautiful: The False Principles of Decoration Papier Mache Tray, 1850

The V&A
Papier Mache Tray with Mother-of-Pearl Inlay and Painted Center, c. 1850
The Victoria & Albert Museum

By now, you know how much I adore Victorian Papier Mache objects.  Along with inlays of mother-of-pearl, these items were often adorned with copies of oil paintings of old buildings or genre scenes.

Here's a great example with a scene of huntsman returning home with fish to cook.  This Papier Mache tray decorated with a painting based on an original which once belonged to the Duke of Devonshire.  The tray was famously part of the exhibition entitled, "False Principles of Decoration" which was held at Marlborough House, London, in 1852.

The catalogue for the exhibition explained that the tray had been selected because of the incongruous combination of the copy of the painting with the gilt border and mother-of-pearl decoration. It described the tray as  "An example of popular taste, presenting numerous features which the student should carefully avoid. These include a copy of the painting 'Bolton Abbey in the Olden Times' by Sir Edwin Landseer, that would be hidden when the tray was in use, and the glittering mother-of-pearl scattered around the edge."

According to the V&A, "Charles Dickens also described 'that tray with a bit of one of Landseer's pictures on it' in his satirical description of the display, 'A House Full of Horrors', which appeared in his magazine Household Words in December 1852."

Well, I like it anyway.

The tray was made by Jennens  & Bettridge, a firm run by Theodore Hyla Jennens and John Bettridge between 1816 and 1864.  They were famous for their exquisite range of papier-mache goods (writing boxes, trays, fans and larger pieces of furniture such as chairs, tables and sofas) which they manufactured in their factory at 99 Constitution Hill, Birmingham. The firm also had premises at 6 Halkin Street West, Belgrave Square, London. This tray is signed indistinctly with the firm's name.

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