Queen Victoria, born on this day in 1819, reigned over Britain and its empire for over 63 years. The most interesting feature about the time is that, unlike the period that precedes it, there is no such thing as a Victorian style.
It was a period vibrant with experimentation, embracing new cultures and reviving historical styles (most famously gothic, but also rococo). Many movements sprung up in the later part of her reign, like the Art and Craft movement that finds its apogee in the work of William Morris. Still, it’s impossible for us today to walk into a Victorian room and not being able to tell: Edith Wharton (mostly known as the author of The Age of Innocence) denounced the Victorian taste for being overbearing. Famed interior designer Elsie de Wolfe was the leader of a full-fledged war against the dark and heavy interiors of her childhood. If you are decorating the set of a period drama, a room that is decorated in crimson red and dark heavy woods will shout “Victorian” to even the least geeky of viewers, however that’s not all that there was to Victorian taste, especially because of the time-span. Here are five less mainstream features of Victorian interior décor.
If you’ve watched Suzannah Lipscombe BBC documentary on the hidden killers of the Victorian home, you already know that these gorgeous bright greens were poisonous. Technology has gone a long way, and choosing to decorate your house in Greenery, the 2017 Pantone colour of the year, is not going to kill you. Find some of our favourite designs on our Pinterest moodboard.
The myth of the exotic East was one of the most pervasive of the time. With bestselling books written by the outposts of the Empire, and products being imported from these far away dominions, it is no surprise that the fascination took hold, to the point that Queen Victoria commissioned the Dunbar Hall for Osborne House. The Royal Pavilion at Brighton, however, is probably the best known example of this trend.
It wasn’t just Walter Scott. Revived interest in the Middle Ages and the Gothic style was an inheritance of the Romantic movement’s emphasis on folklore and emotion against the rationalism of the age before it. From architectural features to the style of chairs, to designs like this painted mahogany, pine, and oak cabinet (which features the maker, William Morris of the Arts and Craft movement and his wife). This particular cabinet is not only depicting a Medieval scene (the legend of St George, patron saint of England, defeating the dragon), but also painted through a Medieval technique that was revived by William Burgess.
Arts and Crafts Style
Simple forms and being true to the materials were the hallmark of the Arts and Crafts Movement, which set up workshop in rural areas and revived old techniques. This lamp is an example of the work of the Birmingham Guild of Handicrafts, founded by Arthur Dixon in 1890. Much simpler than what we are used to seeing as Victorian taste (including also elaborate metalwork), these austere designs were very appealing to those connected to the movement because of their anti-modernist, anti-industrialist nature. It was a highly ideological movement, and in many of its proponents it became strictly linked to their political views, too.
While, in many respects, similar to the continental Art Nouveau (which also had its traction in Victorian Britain) because of their common linear forms, this style (named after the store which created it, and which still stands to this day) drifts away from its “fantastic motifs”. Unlike the Arts and Crafts movement, Liberty did not turn its back on industry, and aimed to create products that were within the reach of all classes. Stylistically, Liberty is mostly recognisable from the Celtic revival and Renaissance influences.