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The Victorian Background
For the antique collector, Victoriana and Edwardiana may be considered as one, for the Edwardian Age was, in any case, merely the splendid sunset of the long Victorian day. It went on until the outbreak of the First World War, at all events in spirit, and when the Old World of comfortable capitalism finally crashed the Victorian and Edwardian social structure crashed with it. In fact, just as Chinese history is thought of in Dynasties, so we may think of the era 1837 to about 194 as a `Dynasty' in England, or, if you prefer it, the Age of Victoria and Son.
Its material products are now being keenly collected in many quarters, especially the earlier Victoriana; good prices are being paid for its chairs, sofas, pictures, gilt mirrors, Bohemian glass lustres, silver, and most of all its better quality porcelain. The Edwardian sunset has not yet quite come into its own as a collectors' paradise, but it is in process of doing so and here there are opportunities waiting at many sales for those with an eye to the future. Edwardiana will probably be very scarce one day and perhaps harder to get than Victoriana. For the period it covered was a mere nine years ( I go 1-1 g I o) and though England reached the peak of its material comfort during those years and produced furniture and objets d'art in lavish profusion, yet it obviously could not rival in quantity the sixty four years' production of Victoria's reign.
Perhaps the fashion for Victorian and Edwardian pieces is a simple reaction against the frigid austerity of so much modern design. Many people possess what may be called a `decorative' temperament and they are secretly unhappy with the plainness and `clean lines' of the present day. If they could afford it they would like their homes to be miniature Wallace Museums; they belong spiritually to the Pompadour period, and would be in their element surrounded by the Sevres-inlaid cabinets and glittering candelabra of an elegant French private house.
But these things are getting more and more out of reach as their prices soar into astronomical regions, and if the eighteenth century is getting beyond your purse, then the next best thing is the nineteenth and the early years of the twentieth. Anything, indeed, to escape from modern design which, to the `decoratively minded' person, offers such little scope for lavish display! This underground movement of rebellion against modernism can be seen in other directions. The present passion for ballet seems to be a further manifestation of it, as do some of the patterns on modern fabrics, while the growing demand for modern porcelain which attempts to revive the splendours of the past is another interesting sign.
Whatever the true reasons, the Age of Victoria and Son has weathered the storms of disapproval which frowned severely on it during the 1920s, 30s and 40s Many young people, brought up in monotonous modern houses which closely resemble hospital wards, are finding a new enchantment in their sales adventures as they explore Victorian and Edwardian houses. They contrast the cold boredom of modern surroundings with the obvious warmth and comfort of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The red plush and gilt era is beginning to be seen in its true colours, a lavish and expansive time when, with even a moderate income, you could live in a degree of luxury unknown to most people today.
A study of the antiques of any period should always, if possible, be made against its full cultural and social background. With some periods - Ancient Rome, for instance, or the Middle Ages -this is not possible, except to the expert who can immerse himself in the mental reconstruction of them. Even the eighteenth century, the Louis Quinze period, is so far removed from us that we cannot really conceive what it was like to be alive in that charmingly artificial time. But the Victorian Age was actually the parent of the modern era; it gave us railways and telegraphs, bicycles and typewriters, gramophones and electric light. And it gave us countless thousands of the houses and buildings, museums, theatres and churches, which we still use every day. Even modern male fashions, especially the lounge suit, have not altered in essentials since about 1846, surprising as it may be to realise. In short, the Victorian Age is still around as, and nothing is easier than to study it at first-hand in the memorials of it which are everywhere to hand.