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“Doll’s Houses and Ceramics” by Patrica Ferguson

On 12 December 2019 we were delighted to welcome Patricia Ferguson to our meeting. Patricia is currently Project Curator, 18th century European Ceramics at the British Museum Previously she was Project Curator, 18th century Prints and Ceramics, studying ceramics and print culture which resulted in an exhibition Pots with Attitude: British Satire on Ceramics, 1760-1830

She is also the external adviser on ceramics to The National Trust and is the author of Ceramics: 400 years of British Collecting in 100 Masterpieces, PWP London, 2016 having researched their collections since 2003. Between 2006 and 2017 Patricia was a consulting curator at the V&A Museum where she worked on the Ceramics Galleries and in the Asian Department. In 2016 she wrote the handbook Garnitures: Vase Sets from National Trust Houses, V&A.

Dolls Houses were known as Baby Houses in the 17th century.  Baby Houses were made as exact replicas of aristocratic homes, larger than dolls houses as we know them today. A 1730 Hogarth painting entitled Tea Party shows the size to scale of the children’s furniture.  These baby houses had fully working interiors and it is believed that they may have helped to educate aristocratic children in the running of households and prepare them for their future responsibilities. It was interesting to hear that very few baby houses remain today probably because of the fire risks of fully working interiors! These would have included working fires and candles.

Patricia introduced us to the 18th-century dolls’ house at Uppark which is one of the most historically important in the country, and one of only a handful that have survived from the era in good condition. The rooms are filled with delicate porcelain, imported silks, fine furniture, and Flemish-style oil paintings.

We were encouraged to visit the Museum of Childhood at the V&A where there is an unusual early 18th-century room setting filled with furniture, dolls and accessories of mixed date and quality.

More than half of the over 400 objects that furnished the ‘room setting’ date from 1680-1760.  Except for the silver, these early items are scaled to the height of the ‘resident’ dolls, and indeed to the baby house itself, suggesting that they were purchased or commissioned around the same time and since remained together. They are extremely finely crafted, closely imitating details found on real objects. A silver tankard from the 1690s has a hinged cover, a 1750s set of brass pistol-handled knives with scimitar-shaped blades and two-pronged forks is in the latest fashion, as is the copper lighthouse-shaped chocolate or coffee pot with a turned wood handle. There is an assortment of salt-glazed stoneware mugs made in Staffordshire, about 1730–50, which were probably once part of a large set of tablewares.

Whilst revealing the stories of the people who decorated them, Patricia described the splendour of 18th century Baby Houses, Dolls Houses or Dutch Cupboard Houses which were furnished with examples of salt glaze pottery, alabaster, blanque de chine, and Chinese blue and white and much more.  We very much look forward to a return visit from Patricia.