Mrs Baldwin sews in the drawing room

Here is a watercolour of Mrs Baldwin in the drawing room, probably in about 1920, which has come to me courtesy of Mary Baldwin’s godson. The picture shows an elegant and highly patterned interior and to my modern eyes, quite sparsely furnished. Despite what we would consider to be a rather hard chair, she looks comfortable, eased back, ankles crossed. Her manner indicates her embroidery is for pleasure. She is not darning socks. She has refreshment to hand on her tea table and her chair is turned towards the seaward view.

The details intrigue me. I have the invoice for the lovely tiles in the grate, showing that the Baldwins were ‘improving’ their home in 1917. They chose blue delft and I wonder if they found the red lustre tiles, which remain in other rooms of the house and are High Victorian, a little too gaudy. They also added an Arts and Crafts metal- work panel along the horizontal jamb of the fireplace, shown faintly by the watercolourist as a streak of brown. This is not in the house now, but in a good home nonetheless. The light pine boards of Douglas fir are stained dark brown, a lighter touch than the dark black perimeters painted around rugs, which was favoured by the Victorians.

The details of the interior are lovely, the attention taken, for example, to describe the almost oriental black fabric covering the chair and carried through to the study, where there are curtains in the same. I have found a similar black fabric, which I love, but I hesitate to use it, the study being an East facing room and the light somewhat depleted these days by a vast Cryptomeria japonica outside. Nor can I rival the ceramic collection: the 5 piece garniture on the fireplace, or the group of Oriental ceramics in the cabinet behind Mrs Baldwin.

I have a nice collection of coral and shells though, which I could put in a cabinet there. My mother’s flower arranging teacher, Ellalaine Randall, a remarkable plants-woman, master of Ikebana and creative trailblazer, left this collection to my mother and so it has come to me. Ellalaine used it in her arrangements. She was kind towards my childhood efforts at flower arranging, so they are important objects to me.

Like all good house detectives we have deliberated over the coving. Here in the picture it is so simple, but what I have inherited is something much more gaudy: egg and dart painted gold. I feel sure that if such coving had existed at that time, it would have been shown here. Sure enough we have found that, unlike that in the unmodernised morning room on the floor below, identical to the drawing  room in many respects (and surely the most lovely room in the house?), this coving is not plasterwork run in situ, but a later addition, applied in sections. This modernisation was done then after the watercolour was painted, but before the Bullins arrived in the 1950’s.

We did inherit the oval mirror shown in the picture. In its time it looked to have had a modern mirror plate, much of the plaster detail had broken off and as the gilt gesso faded to a mellow hue, someone had given it a lick of black paint, highlighted with the yellowest gold. A shadow of its former self, in the end it vanished to auction with the modern statuary and I was free of the obligation to hang it again.

Looking at the picture, as a final thought, I wonder what she is drinking? Next to the bowl of roses on the small table there is a glass flask, which appears elevated in some way and reminds of the apparatus in which we distilled water in chemistry lessons. But surely it must be tea..?




Mrs Baldwin’s view will have changed little. Last Spring with the Prunus in flower


Drawing room with egg and dart coving. The floor has now been removed for storage and we have found all the joists to be completely rotten.


The delft tiles



…and the invoice for their purchase



A photograph of the drawing room at similar date to the watercolour. It shows the Arts and Crafts metalwork on fireplace jamb and also a canopy in the chimney, improving the draw.




4 thoughts on “Mrs Baldwin sews in the drawing room

  1. Lovely watercolour – you’ll make it much nicer in reality though.

    I think I have some of those brass wall gasoliers in a box somewhere and one of those Georgian tip top tables with the spiral twist baluster stem


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