9056 DOLL’S HOUSE English. Circa 1740. Measurements: Height: 66 1/2″ (169cm) Width: 48″ (122cm) Depth: 22 1/2″ (57.5cm)
Of oak and mahogany. In the form of a Palladian house surmounted by seven turned finials, the façade centred by a pediment above a fluted frieze and four Tuscan columns, the rusticated ground floor centred by an arched door way with a panelled door with a brass handle, the windows to the front and sides glazed. The façade of the upper section forming two doors and opening to reveal a decorated interior comprising a hallway, parlour and kitchen on the ground floor and upper hall, dining room and bedroom on the first floor. The house raised on a rusticated base of breakfront form fitted with seven square glazed windows and with a door to each left side, the interior of the base comprising a store room to the left and a larder to the right. The whole raised on four bracket feet.
The present doll’s house is representative of the early contributions made to the craft of replicating homes and furnishings on a small scale. Because the house was built using oak, it is believed to be from the first half of the eighteenth century and constructed using various architectural manuals of the period. Modeled in the Palladian style, it is a fine example of early English domestic miniaturization.
The manufacture of European dolls’ houses, or “baby houses” as they were first called, began as early as the 16th century, with the first known house being built for Duke Albert V of Bavaria. Germany, Holland, and the Netherlands were the most prevalent producers and collectors and, after the Revolution of 1687, Dutch King William brought the trend to Britain. “The immediate ancestor of the English baby house was certainly Dutch”1 and they began as large cabinets filled with miniature rooms. It was the English dolls’ houses that were, from the beginning, built with genuine façades, and we find a prime Palladian example in the present piece.
The houses were custom built for the rich as idealized replicas of the owner’s own residence and were not used as toys, but as displays of social status and wealth. The dolls’ houses were commissioned with impeccably detailed interiors and positioned in places of honor to be studied and admired by the children and visitors of a household. Furnishings were custom-made to scale with “even miniature copies of pictures and tapestry, china and plate”2 commissioned, and the cost of certain complete doll’s houses rivaled the price of an actual home at the time.
It wasn’t until the 19th century, with the advent of the Industrial Revolution, that dolls’ houses began to be produced in greater numbers and evolved into a children’s plaything to be enjoyed and collected.
One such collector was Vivien Greene (1905-2003), wife of the novelist Graham Greene, and one of the twentieth century’s most eminent collectors and researchers of antique dollhouses. Acknowledged as “a pioneer of this branch of social history” , she published two books on the topic: Dolls’ Houses of the 18th and 19th Centuries in 1955, and Family Dolls’ Houses in 1977; and by the mid-1990s she had assembled a collection of over forty miniature houses, all restored and furnished by Greene herself.
Greene’s interest in dollhouses began when she was living with her children in Oxford during World War II, her husband having gone to Sierra Leone to work for the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service. She passed the time furnishing her new lodgings with items she bought from local auctions and, in 1944, she purchased an old dollhouse that had caught her eye, and “lugged it home on the bus.”3 From then on, she spent the long black-out evenings repairing and refurbishing the little house, making carpets and curtains from scraps of fabric, and cutting old wallpaper from her own walls with pieces of broken glass. What started as a hobby soon gained greater significance when she learned that her former home in London had been leveled by bombs and “recognized that in miniature there can survive a record of what has so often been destroyed in full-size.”4 She began seeking out other antique dollhouses, and neighbors and friends began offering theirs to her safekeeping.
After the war, Greene devoted herself to traveling the world to purchase antique dollhouses and to study their social history. She eventually gathered research on over a thousand dollhouses from Europe, North America and South Africa; and in the 1960s, after the success of her first book, she built a museum called the Rotunda at her home in Oxford to accommodate her own collection. The museum allowed her to share with visitors “[her] enjoyment of all kinds and periods of English domestic architecture and decoration.”5 By the late 1990s, the Rotunda’s collection included dozens of miniature houses dating as far back as the late 17th century, all of exceptional quality and historical interest.
In 1998, five years before Greene’s death at the age of 98, the Rotunda collection was auctioned off by Bonhams at Knightbridge, including the present piece, listed as “Quantock Oak”.
The present piece bears striking similarity to buildings designed by several important architects working in the Palladian style in England during the 18th century, including the Bristol Exchange, which was designed by John Wood the Elder, the architect most famous for his transformation of the city of Bath, in the early 1740s. On both buildings, the three central bays protrude slightly from the rest of the façade, and a four-columned temple front rests on top of the ground floor. This particular feature was found on the exteriors of a number of English estates that were built or renovated at the time, including Arniston House in Edinburgh, designed by William Adam in 1726; and Lyme Hall, the exterior of which was transformed into an Italian palazzo by Giacomo Leoni in the 1720s. Among their shared features are the highly detailed façades, rusticated on their lower levels, and the design and arrangement of some of their windows and doors: rectangular windows capped by keystones on the lowest floor, rectangular windows with triangular pediments on the floor above ground level, and semicircular arched windows and doors framed by molding.