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Leiden-Paris-Cambridge Seminar on the Interior as a Space of Display

  • Lieske Huits​​​​​​​ (Leiden University)
Friday 10 November 2023
Museum Talks at the Leiden Department of Art History
Lipsius 0.03, livestream available on this page

Modern/Gothic: Historical Styles and the Domestic Interiors of the Nineteenth-Century

Lieske Huits (Leiden University)

Until recently, the nineteenth century has been criticized as an age which – in its aesthetics, at least – neglected the modern, choosing instead to slavishly reproduce the styles of the past. In the nineteenth century itself, however, the call to consider modern wants and needs, modern materials, and modern manufacturing techniques, often explicitly in relation to the use of historical styles, was a recurring theme in discussions of both architecture and the decorate arts. By the 1870s and 1880s, British consumers expected the objects they brought into their homes to conform to modern conceptions of comfort, with Victorian domestic decorators advising that in the adaptation of historical styles to the modern home there was no intention ‘to forego the pleasures that have come to us since its earlier era.’ What did this adaptation to modern needs look like, and what were its consequences for how historicist objects were received by nineteenth-century audiences? This talk will examine the tensions between a style’s “historical-mindedness” and its contemporary, modern use and display, by examining nineteenth-century decorative arts alongside nineteenth-century domestic design manuals. After examining the discussion of the use of historical styles for modern interiors more generally, it will focus on tensions between the Gothic and the Modern specifically, to assess how a style that was considered so far removed from modern sensibilities by some, could be understood as most suitable to the Victorian domestic interior by others.

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