Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Covered up ...

...  with paint at a later date. 

This Martin Battersby mural was painted at Charters a house designed and built in the 1930s by the architects Adie Button and Partners a firm specialized in industrial buildings who were asked by the client Frank Parkinson, a manufacturer of electrical equipment, to design a country house.

The author of the book The Twentieth Century House In Britain, Alan Powers says:

"In planning Charters, they managed with some success to recreate a vision of a grand country house in the language of the Modern Movement, which raised questions about the compatibility of these concepts.  When Modernism viewed itself as dynamic and aysmmetrical, it contradicted Classical principles, but Le Corbusier's formula of architecture as "a skilful, exact and magnificent game of volumes assembled beneath the light" was applicable to the eighteenth-century ideal of the clear-cut solid of a pale-coloured house rising from a sea of green."

Nothing of Modernism is visible in the decoration and furnishings of this room. Again, Alan Powers:

"Internally ... Martin Battersby's mural betrays a greater confusion, introduced by the decorator, Mrs. G. R. Mount, to gratify the taste of Mrs. Parkinson."

The following paragraphs in which the writer introduces the name of Vogue Regency given by Osbert Lancaster to this "variation of Art Deco whose restraint made it popular in Britain," are worth the read, as is the rest of the book,  if you can get your hands on it. It is still published as far as I know.

The mural is sweetly dainty and probably the delicate theatricality cannot stand up to the vast plane of the wall. The colors of the scheme were cream, gold and terracotta and judging by the tonality of the photo it all seems etiolated and pallid.  

Clearly Mrs. Parkinson's taste, or at least she acquiesced in the taste of her decorator, ran to the baroque in one form or another. The curtains, clearly damask, share the etiolation of the mural and have valances that are totally underscaled, perhaps mercifully, for the drop of the fabric - they just cover the dead-light at the top of the windows. The ruched shades had a sorry revival in the 1980s and survive still in the outer reaches of the suburbs. 

I'm assuming the stageset-like draperies of the fireplace are either plaster or marble - at least let's hope they are - and the blackamoores standing to either side add another layer of theatricality and a gentility that is spurious. And that word, gentility, sums up the room for me. Though I like Martin Battersby's work, generally speaking,  I find this mural thin and wan.  The sofa is a version of the Knole sofa, said to be the first sofa and still to be seen at Knole, but looks corseted and the table stranded in the middle of the floor looks as if it might be ready to scurry away at any moment.  The room looks smothered in good taste. 
I began by liking this room enough to make it a favorite but on reflection I think I talked myself out of that.


  1. In the small picture, the mural looks "PhotoShopped in." In the bigger picture it looks like it's fading away - and the sooner the better. I don't think I'd feel very comfy in there. I'm going to look again tomorrow.

  2. Its looking fine, you can find more modern sofas from

  3. The mural looks like it was Photoshopped in and is now fading away. I'm not getting it. Maybe you have to be there.

  4. Yes, Battersby's tepid mural does seem lost in such a vast space, but the real problem is not the decor, but the underlying program. Someone would have done well to listen to Edith Wharton in "The Decoration of Houses."

    "The tendency to merge into any one room two apartments designed for different purposes shows a retrogression in house planning...In many large houses lately built in America, with ball and music rooms and a hall simulating the two-storied Italian saloon, this distinction [between different types of rooms] has been disregarded and living and gala rooms have been confounded in an agglomeration of apartments where the family, for lack of a smaller suite, sit under gilded ceilings and cut glass chandeliers in about smuch comfort and privacy as are afforded by the public "parlors" of one of our new twenty story hotels.

    The confusion of two different types of room designed for essentially different phases of life has been caused by the fact that the architect, when called upon to build a grand house has simply enlarged, instead of altering, the maison bourgeoise that that has hitherto been the accepted model...treat[ing] halls like rooms of the most informal character with open fireplaces, easy chairs for lounging and reading, tables with lamps, books and magazines and all the appointments of a library...

  5. I agree. The whole room... the idea is interesting, but it doesn't work. It just turns out theatrical and silly. The word for the mural is "twee".

  6. Twee is exactly the word that describes it and the word that was on the tip of my tongue last night as I was writing.

    I thank y'all for you comments and I think what I will do over the weekend in response to Magnaverde is post the outside of the house. It is that combination of classicism and modernism that succeeds in looking fascist - though maybe that is only with hindsight.