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The Aesthetic Interior as Incubator of Health and Well-Being

  • Richard W. Hayes
Abstract

Domestic interiors created during the Aesthetic Movement have often been interpreted in terms of the ideas of aesthetic autonomy associated with Théophile Gautier, Walter Pater and Joris-Karl Huysmans. This essay takes a different tack by analysing the aesthetic interior in light of concerns with health reform. It focuses on the writings and designs of architect E.W. Godwin (1833–86) who pursued interior design as part of an effort to foster a healthy life, one that consisted of hygiene, relief from urban stress, and an enlargement of the aesthetic responsiveness of his clients. He conceived of spare and calm interiors that were healthful alternatives to dust-infested Victorian clutter while concomitantly offering psychological respite from the ‘high-pressure, nervous times’ endemic to metropolitan life. This goal accords with Godwin's related interest in dress reform, a preoccupation that led to his participation in the Health Exhibition of 1884. By unpacking Godwin's specific contribution to the sanitary discussions that prevailed in Victorian Britain, I align the aesthetic interior with the central imperative of sanitary reform: promoting health through ameliorating Britain's urban environment.

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NOTES

1 See for example Hatt, Michael, ‘Space, Surface, Self: Homosexuality and the Aesthetic Interior’, Visual Culture in Britain, 8.1 (2007), pp. 105–28.

2 The Cult of Beauty: The Victorian Avant-Garde 1860–1900 , ed. Orr, Lynn Federle et al. (London, 2011).

3 Wheeler, Katherine, ‘Embracing Decadence: Walter Pater's and John Addington Symonds's Renaissance’, in Wheeler, Katherine, Victorian Perceptions of Renaissance Architecture (Farnham, 2014), pp. 4967 .

4 Wilde, Oscar, ‘The Truth of Masks’, in The Artist as Critic: Critical Writings of Oscar Wilde, ed. Ellmann, Richard (New York, 1969), pp. 409–32 (p. 418).

5 E.W. Godwin, ‘Furniture’, The Globe and Traveller, 15 June 1872, pp. 267–68.

6 Adams, Annmarie, Architecture in the Family Way: Doctors, Houses, and Women 1870–1900 (Montreal, 1996); Cleere, Eileen, The Sanitary Arts: Aesthetic Culture and the Victorian Cleanliness Campaigns (Columbus, Ohio, 2014); Neiswander, Judith A., The Cosmopolitan Interior: Liberalism and the British Home, 1870–1914 (New Haven, 2008), pp. 5871 .

7 See for example Emery, Elizabeth, ‘Misunderstood Symbolism: Rereading the Subjective Objects of Montesquiou's First Maison d'un artiste ’, in Symbolist Objects: Materiality and Subjectivity at the Fin de siècle, ed. I.R., Claire O'Mahony (High Wycombe, 2009), pp. 1843 .

8 Soros, Susan Weber, ‘The Furniture of E.W. Godwin’, in E.W. Godwin: Aesthetic Movement Architect and Designer, ed. Soros, Susan Weber (New Haven, 1999), pp. 242–44.

9 Soros, Susan Weber, The Secular Furniture of E.W. Godwin (New Haven, 1999), p. 53.

10 Allen-Emerson, Michelle, ‘Introduction’, Sanitary Reform in Victorian Britain, 1 (London, 2012), pp. xxiiixxxii (p. xxv).

11 Ibid.

12 Flinn, M.W., ‘Introduction’, in Chadwick, Edwin, Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain, ed. Flinn, M.W. (Edinburgh, 1965), pp. 173 (p. 8).

13 Halliday, Stephen, The Great Stink of London: Sir Joseph Bazalgette and the Cleansing of the Victorian Capital (Stroud, 2000), pp. ixxi . See also Adams, Architecture in the Family Way, p. 22.

14 Ibid., p. 77.

15 Ibid, p. 148. See also Porter, Dale H., The Thames Embankment: Environment, Technology, and Society in Victorian London (Akron, Ohio, 1988).

16 M.W. Flinn, ‘Introduction’, p. 1.

17 The Public Health Act, 1848, at https://archive.org/details/newsanitarylaws00britgoog (accessed on 1 March 2016).

18 The Public Health Act, 1872, at https://archive.org/details/b22298393 (accessed on 1 March 2016).

19 The Public Health Act, 1875, at https://archive.org/details/publichealthact01glengoog (accessed on 1 March 2016).

20 Reliable histories of Bedford Park include Bolsterli, Margaret Jones, The Early Community at Bedford Park: ‘Corporate Happiness’ in the First Garden Suburb (Athens, Ohio, 1977); Girouard, Mark, Sweetness and Light: The Queen Anne Movement, 1860–1900 (Oxford, 1977), pp. 160–76; Greeves, T. Affleck, Bedford Park: The First Garden Suburb (London, 1975; rev. edn., ed. Murray, Peter, London, 2010); Mary Belle Lawson Pendleton, ‘Bedford Park: an Introduction to Further Study’ (doctoral thesis, Northwestern University, 1981); and Andrew Saint, Richard Norman Shaw (New Haven, 1976), pp. 201–10.

21 Quoted in Pendleton, Bedford Park, p. 12. See also Adams, Architecture in the Family Way, p. 40.

22 Girouard, Sweetness and Light, p. 161.

23 Patrick Wallis, ‘Richardson, Sir Benjamin Ward’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, at www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/23544 (accessed on 18 February 2017).

24 Adams, Architecture in the Family Way, p. 52.

25 Richardson, Benjamin Ward, Hygeia, A City of Health (London, 1876), pp. 2124 .

26 Pendleton, Bedford Park, p. 12. Aileen Reid notes that Godwin's original design located the kitchen in a half-basement: Aileen Reid, ‘The Architectural Career of E.W. Godwin’, in Soros, E.W. Godwin, p. 162.

27 Saint, Richard Norman Shaw, pp. 180–84.

28 The Letters of Philip Webb, Volume I: 1864–1887, ed. John Aplin (London, 2016), p. 184. For the Sanitary Institute's founding, see Journal of the American Medical Association , 22.18 (5 May 1894), p. 675 .

29 Walkley, Giles, Artists’ Houses in London 1764–1914 (Aldershot, 1994), pp. 8283 .

30 ‘Chronology’ in Soros, E.W. Godwin, p. 369. For the Manchester Baths, see Love, Christopher, A Social History of Swimming in England, 1800–1918 (Abingdon, 2008), pp. 6869 .

31 Anon., ‘Manchester Baths and Washhouses Competition’, The British Architect, 8 (16 November 1877), pp. 239–41 (p. 239).

32 Ibid., p. 20. One of Godwin's 1872 sketchbooks shows very preliminary drawings for a sanatorium. (Victoria and Albert museum, E. 231-1963).

33 Reid, ‘The Architectural Career of E.W. Godwin’, p. 162.

34 Allen-Emerson, Michelle, ‘General Introduction’, Sanitary Reform in Victorian Britain, 1–6 (London, 2012), pp. viixix (p. xi).

35 Montague, Ken, ‘The Aesthetics of Hygiene: Aesthetic Dress, Modernity, and the Body as Sign’, Journal of Design History, 7 (1994), pp. 91112 .

36 Edis, Robert W., Decoration & Furniture of Town Houses (New York, 1881); Barker, Lady, The Bedroom and Boudoir (London, 1878); Haweis, Mrs. H.R., The Art of Decoration (London, 1888).

37 Adams, Architecture in the Family Way, pp. 37–39.

38 Ibid., p. 39.

39 Wilson, George, Healthy Life and Healthy Homes: A Guide to Domestic Hygiene (Philadelphia, 1880), pp. 221–67.

40 E.W. Godwin, ‘My Chambers, and What I Did to Them, Chapter I: A.D. 1867’, The Architect, 16 (1 July 1876), pp. 4–5; ‘My Chambers, and What I Did to Them, Chapter II: A.D. 1872’, The Architect, 16 (8 July 1876), pp. 18–19; ‘My House “in” London, Chapter I’, The Architect, 16 (15 July 1876), pp. 33–34; ‘My House “in” London, Chapter II – the Hall’, The Architect, 16 (22 July 1876), pp. 45–46; ‘My House “in” London, Chapter III – the Dining-Room’, The Architect, 16 (29 July 1876), pp. 58–59; ‘My House “in” London, Chapter IV – the Drawing-Room’, The Architect, 16 (5 August 1876), pp. 72–73; ‘My House “in” London, Chapter V – the Bedrooms’, The Architect, 16 (12 August 1876), p. 86; ‘My House “in” London’, Chapter VI – Tops and Bottoms’, The Architect, 16 (19 August 1876), pp. 100–01.

41 Allen-Emerson, ‘General Introduction’, p. xvi.

42 Ibid., p. xii.

43 Godwin, ‘My House “in” London, Chapter I’, p. 33.

44 Godwin, ‘My House “in” London, Chapter II’, p. 46.

45 Godwin, ‘My Chambers’, Chapter II, p. 19.

46 Cleere, The Sanitary Arts, p. 46.

47 Ibid., p. 77.

48 Ibid., p. 111. See also Adams, p. 29.

49 Richardson, B.W., ‘Health in the Home’, in Our Homes and How to Make Them Healthy, ed. Murphy, Shirley Foster (London, 1883), p. 26.

50 Lionel Lambourne, ‘Edward William Godwin (1833–1886): Aesthetic Polymath’, in Soros, E.W. Godwin, p. 26.

51 ‘Chronology’, in Soros, E.W. Godwin, p. 365. R.W. Edis also lived on Albany Street. See www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol21/pt3/pp145-149 (accessed on 12 December 2016).

52 Godwin decried how ‘dwellers in large towns like London and Manchester are quite enough shut out from the sunlight and the free circulation of fresh air’: ‘From the House-Top’, The Architect, 16 (26 August 1876), pp. 112–13 (p. 112).

53 Godwin, ‘My Chambers’, Chapter I, p. 4.

54 Ibid.

55 Ibid., p. 5.

56 Richardson, Hygeia, pp. 25–26.

57 Watt, William, Art Furniture, From Designs by E.W. Godwin, F.S.A., and Others, with Hints and Suggestions on Domestic Furniture and Decoration (London, 1877).

58 Soros, Secular Furniture, p. 53.

59 Allen-Emerson, ‘General Introduction’, p. x.

60 Godwin, ‘My House “in” London, Chapter I’, p. 33.

61 Ibid.

62 Ibid.

63 Ibid.

64 Godwin, ‘My Chambers’, Chapter I, p. 5.

65 Godwin, ‘My House “in” London, Chapter V’, p. 86.

66 The use of leather rather than a fabric like silk or linen accords with the theories of Dr. Gustave Jaeger, the German naturalist and hygienist, who rejected plant-based fibres as unhygienic.

67 Godwin, ‘My Chambers’, Chapter I, p. 5.

68 Soros, Secular Furniture, pp. 184–85.

69 Edis, Town Houses, p. 238.

70 Morris, William, ‘Making the Best of It’, in Hopes and Fears for Art (London, 1883), p. 161.

71 Edis illustrated a combined bookcase and buffet intended for dining rooms in his chapter ‘Internal Decoration’ in Murphy, Our Homes, p. 345.

72 Godwin, ‘My Chambers’, Chapter I, p. 5.

73 E.W. Godwin, ‘Mantelpieces’, The Architect, 15 (3 June 1876), p. 353.

74 For Morris's comment on moveable furniture, see Morris, ‘Making the Best of It’, p. 160.

75 Juliet Kinchin, ‘E.W. Godwin and Modernism’, in Soros, E.W. Godwin, pp. 106–07.

76 Godwin, ‘My House “in” London, Chapter III’, p. 58.

77 Ibid.

78 Ibid.

79 Ibid.

80 Ibid., p. 46.

81 Godwin, ‘My House “in” London, Chapter II’, p. 45.

82 Godwin, ‘My Chambers’, Chapter II, p. 19.

83 See, for example, Francis H. Brown, ‘Arsenical Wall Papers’, The Sanitary Record (18 April 1879), pp. 242–43.

84 Godwin, ‘My House “in” London’, Chapter III’, p. 58.

85 Godwin, ‘My House “in” London, Chapter V’, p. 86.

86 Godwin, ‘My House “in” London, Chapter VI’, p. 101.

87 Godwin, ‘My House “in” London, Chapter V’, p. 86.

88 Ibid.

89 W.J. Loftie, ‘Preface’, in Barker, The Bedroom, n.p.

90 Barker, The Bedroom, p. 5.

91 Ibid., p. 1.

92 Ibid., p. 17.

93 Ibid., p. 33.

94 Godwin was no fan of Barker's book. Reviewing it, he wrote, ‘The writing is a literary mixture of a kind of Bohemianism and namby-pambyism’: ‘Notes on Current Events’, The British Architect, 9 (29 March 1878), p. 144.

95 Godwin, ‘My House “in” London, Chapter I’, p. 34.

96 Godwin, ‘My House “in” London, Chapter II’, p. 45.

97 Flinn, ‘Introduction’, pp. 38–43. See also Roberts, David, Victorian Origins of the British Welfare State (New Haven, 1960).

98 Godwin, ‘My House “in” London, Chapter IV’, p. 73.

99 Ibid.

100 Godwin, ‘My House “in” London, Chapter VI’, p. 100.

101 Ibid. Also see Terry, Ellen, The Story of My Life (London, 1908), p. 80.

102 Soros, Secular Furniture, p. 57.

103 Godwin, ‘My House “in” London, Chapter VI’, p. 100.

104 Wilde, Oscar, The Happy Prince and Other Tales (London, 1888).

105 Holland, Vyvyan, Son of Oscar Wilde (New York, 1954), pp. 4143 .

106 Small, Ian, ‘Introduction’, in Wilde, Oscar, Complete Short Fiction , ed. Small, Ian (London, 2003), pp. xxxi (p. xvi).

107 Girouard, Sweetness and Light, pp. 4–5, p. 227.

108 Godwin condemned ‘the essentially unartistic mechanical modern spirit’, for example. See E.W. Godwin, ‘Some Notes of a Month in Normandy – II’, The Building News, 27 (11 September 1874), pp. 307–08 (p. 307).

109 Godwin, E.W., ‘National Art’, The British Architect , 10 (8 November 1878), p. 177 .

110 Ibid.

111 Godwin, ‘My House “in” London, Chapter III’, p. 59.

112 Godwin, ‘My House “in” London, Chapter VI’, p. 100.

113 Godwin, ‘National Art’, p. 177.

114 Adams, Annmarie, ‘Introduction’, in Corpus Sanum in Domo Sano: The Architecture of the Domestic Sanitation Movement 1870–1914 (Montreal, 1992), pp. 718 (p. 16).

115 Stella Mary Newton, Health, Art & Reason: Dress Reformers of the 19th Century (London, 1974), p. 92. See also Adams, Architecture in the Family Way, p. 11.

116 Newton, Health, Art & Reason, p. 95.

117 Anon., ‘A List of Official Publications Issued by the Executive Council of the International Health Exhibition’. in The Health Exhibition Literature (London, 1884), pp. 36 .

118 Edis, Robert William, Healthy Furniture and Decoration (London, 1884). The Oxford DNB describes Edis as ‘a populariser rather than an innovator’: Alan Powers, ‘Edis, Sir Robert William’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography at www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/63284 (accessed on 17 March 2017)

119 Newton, Dress Reformers, p. 96.

120 Godwin, E.W., Dress and Its Relation to Health and Climate (London, 1884).

121 Ibid, pp. 11–12.

122 Mrs. Haweis, for example, denounced tight lacing in The Art of Dress (London, 1879), pp. 33–38.

123 Godwin, E.W., ‘Modern Dress’, The Architect, 15 (10 June 1876), p. 368 .

124 Cunningham, Patricia A., Reforming Women's Fashion, 1850–1920. Politics, Health, and Art (Kent, Ohio, 2003), p. 123. See also Newton, Health, Art & Reason, p. 97.

125 Oscar Wilde, Letter to The Pall Mall Gazette, Tuesday 14 October 1884, p. 6.

126 Terry, The Story of My Life, p. 85.

127 Godwin, ‘Modern Dress’, p. 368.

128 Godwin, E.W., ‘A Lecture on Dress’, in The Mask: a Quarterly Journal of the Art of Theatre , 6.1 (April 1914), p. 349 .

129 Loos, Adolf, ‘Men's Fashion’ [English translation of ‘Die Herrenmode’], in Adolf Loos. Spoken into the Void: Collected Essays 1897–1900, ed. Ockman, Joan, trans. Newman, Jane O. and Smith, John H. (Cambridge, MA, 1982), pp. 1117 (p. 14).

130 Adolf Loos, ‘Plumbers’ [English translation of ‘Die Plumber’], in Ockman, Adolf Loos, pp. 44–49.

131 Adams, Corpus sanum, p. 7.

132 Allen-Emerson, ‘General Introduction’, p. vii.

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