Canon Valpy drawing-room, 3 The Close, Winchester
Painted by B. O. Corfe, c. 1900
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
I begin the series with a watercolor of the drawing-room at 3 The Close, Winchester, that belonged to Canon Valpy, a well-to-do member of the Chapter of Winchester Cathedral. Painted in 1900, this is a room where the heavy clutter one associates with High-Victoriana has largely been dispensed with, and it is furnished in an eclectic, comfortable manner presaging the “English Country House” look that Nancy Lancaster and her circle perfected a generation or two later. One sees in Canon Valpy’s drawing-room a way of arranging and decorating an interior that surely informed, if not inspired, Mrs. Lancaster’s subsequent vision.
What is it about this room that I find so compelling?
While clearly a room of its time and place, I find Canon Valpy’s drawing-room to be particularly pleasing. It is comfortable, attractive, and – with the addition of a few table lamps – a room that I would be delighted to live in today.
- The proportions are pleasing. The architecture is solidly Georgian in appearance, undoubtedly built in the 18th-century, symmetrically arranged around a lovely fireplace, with large windows, classical moldings, and a chair-rail.
- It is comfortably-furnished with a handsome collection of upholstered and incidental furnishings. The decoration is clearly inspired by the English 18th-century, but not slavishly so as it is augmented with examples from other periods and countries, including France and Morocco.
- There is a lot to interest one’s eye: the walls are hung with stacks of gilt-framed prints and paintings, and the tables are covered with collections of china and objects of interest; there are flowers and green plants about.
- It is redolent of time spent in scholarly, musical, and social pursuits: there are numerous stacks of books (this is clearly the room of people who enjoy reading), and a piano stands at the ready, either for one’s own enjoyment or others. The furniture can be easily moved to promote intimate conversation or for a party.
- It is softened by the presence of attractive textiles. The upholstered seating is uniformly slipcovered with the same pretty chintz, and the floor is covered with a beautiful oriental carpet. The windows are generously hung with handsome curtains. I find the simplicity of the slipcovers and curtains pleasing, too. No dress-makers’ tassels or ribbons in sight and no swags or jabots.
- It doesn’t look overtly-decorated, and is obviously not the work of one of the firms that delivered so many “lock-stock-and-barrel” interiors seen in many English country houses of the period. Although thoroughly furnished by today’s standards, at the time it was painted prevailing taste would have considered this to be understated.
Canon Valpy’s drawing room, along with many other lovely interiors, appears in Victorians At Home by Susan Lasdun, published by Viking Press in 1981