Pre-Raphaelite comfort

Who doesn’t love an Arts and Crafts interior? But perhaps it isn’t the most comfortable style to live with. Here’s Angela Thirkell’s very practical nostalgia about her grandparents’ (Edward and Georgiana Burne-Jones) furniture, taken from “Three Houses”:

Angela Thirkell photographed as a child.
Angela recalled many happy Sundays spent at her grandparents’ homes

“As I look back on the furniture of my grandparents’ two houses I marvel chiefly at the entire lack of comfort which the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood succeeded in creating for itself. It was not, I think, so much that they actively despised comfort, as that the word conveyed absolutely nothing to them whatever. I can truthfully say that neither at North End Road (Fulham) nor at North End House was there a single chair that invited to repose, and the only piece of comfortable furniture that my grandparents ever possessed was their drawing room sofa in London, a perfectly ordinary large sofa with good springs, only disguised by Morris chintzes. The sofas at Rottingdean were simply long low tables with a little balustrade round two, or sometimes three sides, made of plain oak or some inferior wood painted white. There was a slight concession to human frailty in the addition of rigidly hard squabs covered with chintz or blue linen and when to these my grandmother had added a small bolster apparently made of concrete and two or three thin unyielding cushions, she almost blamed herself for wallowing in undeserved luxury.

The best sofa in the house was a massive wooden affair painted shiny black. It was too short to lie on and you could only sit on it in an upright position, as if you tried to lean you hit your head against the high back. It was upholstered in yellow brown velvet of such rich and excellent quality that it stuck to one’s clothes, making it impossible to move about, and the unyielding cushions and rigid bolsters took up more room than the unlucky users.

As for pre-Raphaelite beds, it can only have been the physical vigour and perfect health of their original designers that made them believe their work was fit to sleep in. It is true that the spring mattress was then in an embryonic state and there were no spiral springs to prevent a bed from taking the shape of a drinking trough after a few weeks’ use, but even this does not excuse the use of wooden slats running lengthways as an aid to refreshing slumber. Luckily children never know when they are uncomfortable and the pre-Raphaelites had in many essentials the childlike mind.”
Three Houses, published by Oxford University Press 1931

At the present date (February 2024) Christie’s website is still showing several of Frederick Hollyer’s photographs of The Grange. The lot was sold in July 2022, and provides a fascinating glimpse into a house that Edward and Georgiana Burne-Jones called home.


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