9056 AN EXCEPTIONAL MAHOGANY AND OAK DOLL’S HOUSE MODELED IN THE PALLADIAN STYLE English. Circa 1730.   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. Minor old repairs. Three ‘bricks’ replaced where missing. 

Vivien Greene, The Rotunda, Oxford
Bonhams Knightbridge, The Vivien Greene Dolls’ House Collection: Part I, 9 December 1998, Lot 3.

Greene, Vivien with Margaret Towner. The Vivien Greene Dolls’ House Collection. London: Cassell, 1995. 30-32.
Wilckens, Leonie. Mansions in Miniature: Four Centuries of Dolls’ Houses. New York: The Viking Press, 1980. 153.

The present doll’s house, which collector and previous owner, Vivien Greene, described as “totally breathtaking” is representative of the early contributions made to the craft of replicating homes and furnishings on a small scale, and “certainly, if not an adaptation of a real house, professionally designed using various architectural manuals of the period.”1 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 sixteenth 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”2 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, as seen in the prime Palladian frontage of the present piece.

At the outset, dolls’ houses were custom built for the wealthy 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. Furnishings were custom-ordered to scale with “even miniature copies of pictures and tapestry, china and plate”3 made for the interiors, and the cost of certain complete dolls’ houses rivaled the price of an actual home at the time.

The present dolls’ house is organized into three storeys: the base contains a miniature food larder on the right and a store or toy cupboard on the left side, through side access doors; the ground floor consists of a central hallway with staircase, a pantry or parlor on the right, and a kitchen to the left; and the first floor contains the upper hallway, a dining room to the right, and bedroom to the left (figure 1). The original furnishings have long been separated from the house, but many built-in architectural details remain. Several of the rooms contain molded doorways and fire surrounds, as well as storage benches, cupboards and tables. The kitchen is equipped with a built-in open hutch. The rooms of the first floor have been well preserved, retaining mirrors and wallpapering; the upper hallway in particular was redecorated circa 1790 with a neoclassical paper frieze with griffons and urns, and eight miniature portrait prints. From a construction perspective, “the house has a most complex system of opening, whereby a hand must be inserted through the front door after unlocking it, so that a hidden bolt can be drawn before the front section can be opened and the two side wings operated.”4

It was not until the nineteenth 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.

Vivien Greene (1905–2003), wife of the novelist Graham Greene, was one of the twentieth century’s most eminent collectors and researchers of antique dollhouses. Acknowledged as “a pioneer of this branch of social history,”5 she published two books on the topic: Dolls’ Houses of the 18th and 19th Centuries in 1955, and Family Dolls’ Houses in 1977. 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.”6 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.”7 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.”8 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,” as it had once been purchased from a dealer in the Quantocks.

The present piece bears striking similarity to buildings designed by several important British architects working in the English Baroque and Palladian styles during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. 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. Other recurring features are the three central bays that protrude slightly from the rest of the façade, and a four-columned temple front resting 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 around this 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.

Early initiators of English Palladianism and Baroque styles, and examples of their respective buildings which the doll’s house emulates, include Colen Campbell’s (1676–1729) elevation of 1710 for a townhouse “of ‘Lindsey House’ type” in Lincoln’s Inn Fields (figure 2) and Sir Christopher Wren (1632–1723) with his Fleet Street entrance to Middle Temple in London, circa 1676 (figure 3), as well as his design for Winchester Palace of 1682-83 (fig. 4). Wren was also responsible for “England’s most integrated Baroque achievement,” The Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich, begun in 1696.

Another, slightly later exponent was John Wood the Elder (1704–1754), designer of the Bristol Exchange (figure 4) and the architect most famous for his transformation of the city of Bath, in the early 1740s. A relevant example of his work is the façade of 24-25 Chippenham High Street circa 1738, which was removed to Sion Hill Place in the 20th century (figure 5).

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