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Critic's Choice - 15.11.07

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Paintings of interiors should not be taken at face value, says Andrew Mead

When Purcell Miller Tritton was restoring Robert Taylor’s ruined Palladian villa, Danson House, in south-west London, the discovery of some early 19th-century watercolours proved decisive. They showed the interiors of the house before Victorian alterations and clinched the case for reconstituting an 18thcentury scheme (AJ 18.11.04). But a new show at London’s Geffrye Museum, ‘Home and Garden: Domestic Spaces in Paintings from 1960 to the Present’, suggests that such visual records must be interpreted with great care (www.geffrye-museum.org.uk).

In creating its series of historic rooms, the Geffrye has made frequent use of paintings as evidence for how things looked; they accompany the displays as a reference. But no future curator at the Geffrye would treat the Howard Hodgkin painting in the current exhibition as a basis for recreating a decorative scheme, given how heightened Hodgkin’s use of colour is. By contrast, Frank Stanton’s Front Room, Islington, with its careful depiction of patterned rugs and wallpaper, looks more reliable (pictured below). The caption to a portrait of architect and Victorian Society founder Ian Grant and his partner Paul Taylor tells us that the room they’re in is a fiction, but one that fuses elements of their actual sitting room and drawing room. So if picture and caption don’t part company, they’ll serve as a historical record. But almost nothing here is conspicuously of its period. No-one is striving to be up to date, to have a 1960s or ‘70s ‘look’. We seem to prefer making piecemeal adjustments to inherited rooms.

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