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182 The Decoration of Houses

duce an effect of brightness by means of white wood-work and
walls hung with good colored prints, with large photographs of
old Flemish or Italian pictures, say, for example, Bellini's baby-
angels playing on musical instruments, and with a few of the
Japanese plant and animal drawings already referred to. All
these subjects would interest and amuse even very young chil-
dren; and there is no reason why a gay Japanese screen, with
boldly drawn birds and flowers, should not afford as much en-
tertainment as one composed of a heterogeneous collection of
Christmas cards, chromos, and story-book pictures, put together
without any attempt at color-harmony or composition.

Children's rooms should be as free as possible from all super-
fluous draperies. The windows may be hung with either shades
or curtains: it is needless to have both. If curtains are pre-
ferred, they should be of chintz, or of some washable cotton or
linen. The reproductions of the old toiles de Jouy, with pictures
from y^Esop and La Fontaine, or from some familiar myth or story,
are specially suited to children's rooms ; while another source of
interest and amusement may be provided by facing the fireplace
with blue and white Dutch tiles representing the finding of Moses,
the story of David and Goliath, or some such familiar episode.

As children grow older, and are allotted separate bedrooms,
these should be furnished and decorated on the same principles
and with the same care as the school-room. Pieces of furniture
for these bedrooms would make far more suitable and interesting
presents than the costly odds and ends so often given without
definite intention. In the arrangement of the child's own room
the expression of individual taste should be encouraged and the
child allowed to choose the pictures and casts with which the
walls are hung. The responsibility of such selection will do

The School-Room and Nurseries 183

much to develop the incipient faculties of observation and

To sum up, then : the child's visible surroundings form the
basis of the best, because of the most unconscious, cultivation:
and not of aesthetic cultivation only, since, as has been pointed
out, the development of any artistic taste, if the child's general
training is of the right sort, indirectly broadens the whole view
of life.


IT is perhaps not uninstructive to note that we have no English
word to describe the class of household ornaments which
French speech has provided with at least three designations, each
indicating a delicate and almost imperceptible gradation of quality.
In place of bric-a-brac, bibelots, objets d'art, we have only knick-
knacks defined by Stormonth as "articles of small value."

This definition of the knick-knack fairly indicates the general
level of our artistic competence. It has already been said that
cheapness is not necessarily synonymous with trashiness; but
hitherto this assertion has been made with regard to furniture and
to the other necessary appointments of the house. With knick-
knacks the case is different. An artistic age will of course pro-
duce any number of inexpensive trifles fit to become, like the
Tanagra figurines, the museum treasures of later centuries ; but it
is hardly necessary to point out that modern shop-windows are
not overflowing with such immortal toys. The few objects of art
produced in the present day are the work of distinguished artists.
Even allowing for what Symonds calls the "vicissitudes of taste,"
it seems improbable that our commercial knick-knack will ever be
classed as a work of art.

It is clear that the weary man must have a chair to sit on, the





Bric-a-Brac 185

hungry man a table to dine at; nor would the most sensitive
judgment condemn him for buying ugly ones, were no others to
be had ; but objects of art are a counsel of perfection. It is quite
possible to go without them ; and the proof is that many do go
without them who honestly think to possess them in abundance.
This is said, not with any intention of turning to ridicule the
natural desire to " make a room look pretty," but merely with the
purpose of inquiring whether such an object is ever furthered by
the indiscriminate amassing of "ornaments." Decorators know
how much the simplicity and dignity of a good room are dimin-
ished by crowding it with useless trifles. Their absence improves
even bad rooms, or makes them at least less multitudinously bad.
It is surprising to note how the removal of an accumulation of
knick-knacks will free the architectural lines and restore the fur-
niture to its rightful relation with the walls.

Though a room must depend for its main beauty on design
and furniture, it is obvious that there are many details of lux-
urious living not included in these essentials. In what, then,
shall the ornamentation of rooms consist ? Supposing walls and
furniture to be satisfactory, how put the minor touches that give
to a room the charm of completeness ? To arrive at an answer,
one must first consider the different kinds of minor embellish-
ment. These may be divided into two classes : the object of art
per se, such as the bust, the picture, or the vase ; and, on the
other hand, those articles, useful in themselves, lamps, clocks,
fire-screens, bookbindings, candelabra, which art has only to
touch to make them the best ornaments any room can contain.
In past times such articles took the place of bibelots. Few purely
ornamental objects were to be seen, save in the cabinets of col-
lectors; but when Botticelli decorated the panels of linen chests,

1 86 The Decoration of Houses

and Cellini chiselled book-clasps and drinking-cups, there could
be no thought of the vicious distinction between the useful and
the beautiful. One of the first obligations of art is to make all
useful things beautiful: were this neglected principle applied to
the manufacture of household accessories, the modern room
would have no need of knick-knacks.

Before proceeding further, it is necessary to know what consti-
tutes an object of art. It was said at the outset that, though
cheapness and trashiness are not always synonymous, they are
apt to be so in the case of the modern knick-knack. To buy, and
even to make, it may cost a great deal of money ; but artistically
it is cheap, if not worthless; and too often its artistic value is
in inverse ratio to its price. The one-dollar china pug is less
harmful than an expensive onyx lamp-stand with moulded
bronze mountings dipped in liquid gilding. It is one of the mis-
fortunes of the present time that the most preposterously bad
things often possess the powerful allurement of being expensive.
One might think it an advantage that they are not within every
one's reach ; but, as a matter of fact, it is their very unattainable-
ness which, by making them more desirable, leads to the produc-
tion of that worst curse of modern civilization cheap copies of
costly horrors.

An ornament is of course not an object of art because it is ex-
pensivethough it must be owned that objects of art are seldom
cheap. Good workmanship, as distinct from designing, almost
always commands a higher price than bad; and good artistic
workmanship having become so rare that there is practically no
increase in the existing quantity of objects of art, it is evident
that these are more likely to grow than to diminish in value. Still,
as has been said, costliness is no test of merit in an age when

Brie- a- Brae 187

large prices are paid for bad things. Perhaps the most convenient
way of defining the real object of art is to describe it as any
ornamental objecl which adequately expresses an artistic con-
ception. This definition at least clears the ground of the mass
of showy rubbish forming the stock-in-trade of the average
" antiquity " dealer.

Good objects of art give to a room its crowning touch of dis-
tinction. Their intrinsic beauty is hardly more valuable than their
suggestion of a mellower civilization of days when rich men
were patrons of " the arts of elegance," and when collecting beau-
tiful objects was one of the obligations of a noble leisure. The
qualities implied in the ownership of such bibelots are the mark
of their unattainableness. The man who wishes to possess ob-


jects of art must have not only the means to acquire them, but
the skill to choose them a skill made up of cultivation and judg-
ment, combined with that feeling for beauty that no amount of
study can give, but that study alone can quicken and render

Only time and experience can acquaint one with those minor
peculiarities marking the successive " manners " of a master, or
even with the technical nuances which at once enable the collector
to affix a date to his Sevres or to his maiolica. Such knowledge is
acquired at the cost of great pains and of frequent mistakes ; but
no one should venture to buy works of art who cannot at least
draw such obvious distinctions as those between old and new
Saxe, between an old Italian and a modern French bronze, or be-
tween Chinese peach-bloom porcelain of the Khang-hi period
and the Japanese imitations to be found in every " Oriental em-

Supposing the amateur to have acauired this proficiency, he is

1 88 The Decoration of Houses

still apt to buy too many things, or things out of proportion with
the rooms for which they are intended. The scoffers at style
those who assume that to conform to any known laws of decora-
tion is to sink one's individuality often justify their view by the
assertion that it is ridiculous to be tied down, in the choice of
bibelots, to any given period or manner as though Mazarin's
great collection had comprised only seventeenth-century works of
art, or the Colonnas, the Gonzagas, and the Malatestas had drawn
all their treasures from contemporary sources! As a matter of
fact, the great amateurs of the past were never fettered by such
absurd restrictions. All famous patrons of art have encouraged
the talent of their day ; but the passion for collecting antiquities is
at least as old as the Roman Empire, and Graeco-Roman sculptors
had to make archaistic statues to please the popular fancy, just as
our artists paint pre-Raphaelite pictures to attract the disciples of
Ruskin and William Morris. Since the Roman Empire, there has
probably been no period when a taste for the best of all ages did
not exist. 1 Julius II, while Michel Angelo and Raphael worked
under his orders, was gathering antiques for the Belvedere cortile;
under Louis XIV, Greek marbles, Roman bronzes, cabinets of
Chinese lacquer and tables of Florentine mosaic were mingled
without thought of discord against Lebrun's tapestries or Berain's
arabesques; and Marie-Antoinette's collection united Oriental por-
celains with goldsmiths' work of the Italian Renaissance.
Taste attaches but two conditions to the use of objects of art:

1 "A little study would probably show that the Ptolemaic era in Egypt was a re-
naissance of the Theban age, in architecture as in other respects, while the golden
period of Augustus in Rome was largely a Greek revival. Perhaps it would even be
discovered that all ages of healthy human prosperity are more or less revivals, and
have been marked by a retrospective tendency." The ArchiteEture of the Renais-
sance in Italy, by W. J. Anderson. London, Batsford, 1896.

Bric-a-Brac 1 89

that they shall be in scale with the room, and that the room shall
not be overcrowded with them. There are two ways of being in
scale: there is the scale of proportion, and what might be called
the scale of appropriateness. The former is a matter of actual
measurement, while the latter is regulated solely by the nicer
standard of good taste. Even in the matter of actual measure-
ment, the niceties of proportion are not always clear to an un-
practised eye. It is easy to see that the Ludovisi Juno would be
out of scale in a boudoir, but the discrepancy, in diminishing,
naturally becomes less obvious. Again, a vase or a bust may not
be out of scale with the wall-space behind it, but may appear to
crush the furniture upon which it stands; and since everything a
room contains should be regarded as a factor in its general com-
position, the relation of bric-a-brac to furniture is no less to be
studied than the relation of bric-a-brac to wall-spaces. Much of
course depends upon the effect intended ; and this can be greatly
modified by careful adjustment of the contents of the room. A
ceiling may be made to look less high by the use of wide, low
pieces of furniture, with massive busts and vases ; while a low-
studded room may be heightened by tall, narrow commodes and
cabinets, with objects of art upon the same general lines.

It is of no less importance to observe the scale of appropriate-
ness. A bronze Pallas Athene or a cowled mediaeval pleureur
would be obviously out of harmony with the spirit of a boudoir;
while the delicate graces of old Saxe or Chelsea would become
futile in library or study.

Another kind of appropriateness must be considered in the rela-
tion of objects of art to each other: not only must they be in scale
as regards character and dimensions, but also and this, though
more important, is perhaps less often considered as regards

190 The Decoration of Houses

quality. The habit of mixing good, bad, and indifferent in furni-
ture is often excused by necessity: people must use what they
have. But there is no necessity for having bad bric-a-brac.
Trashy "ornaments" do not make a room more comfortable; as
a general rule, they distinctly diminish its comfort; and they have
the further disadvantage of destroying the effect of any good piece
of work. Vulgarity is always noisier than good breeding, and it
is instructive to note how a modern commercial bronze will "talk
down " a delicate Renaissance statuette or bust, and a piece of Deck
or Minton china efface the color-values of blue-and-white or the
soft tints of old Sevres. Even those who set down a preference
for old furniture as an affectation will hardly maintain that new
knick-knacks are as good as old bibelots; but only those who
have some slight acquaintance with the subject know how wide
is the distance, in conception and execution, between the old ob-
ject of art and its unworthy successor. Yet the explanation is
simple. In former times, as the greatest painters occupied them-
selves with wall-decoration, so the greatest sculptors and model-
lers produced the delicate statuettes and the incomparable bronze
mountings for vases and furniture adorning the apartments of
their day. A glance into the window of the average furniture-
shop probably convinces the most unobservant that modern
bronze mountings are not usually designed by great artists; and
there is the same change in the methods of execution. The
bronze formerly chiselled is now moulded ; the iron once wrought
is cast; the patina given to bronze by a chemical process making
it a part of the texture of the metal is now simply applied as a
surface wash; and this deterioration in processes has done more
than anything else to vulgarize modern ornament.

It may be argued that even in the golden age of art few could

Bric-a-Brac 191

have walls decorated by great painters, or furniture-mountings
modelled by great sculptors; but it is here that the superiority of
the old method is shown. Below the great painter and sculptor
came the trained designer who, formed in the same school as his
superiors, did not attempt a poor copy of their masterpieces, but
did the same kind of work on simpler lines; just as below the
skilled artificer stood the plain artisan whose work was executed
more rudely, but by the same genuine processes. This explains
the supposed affectation of those who "like things just because
they are old." Old bric-a-brac and furniture are, indeed, almost
always worthy of liking, since they are made on good lines by a
good process.

Two causes connected with the change in processes have con-
tributed to the debasement of bibelots: the substitution of
machine for hand-work has made possible the unlimited repro-
duction of works of art; and the resulting demand for cheap
knick-knacks has given employment to a multitude of untrained
designers having nothing in common with the -virtuoso of former

It is an open question how much the mere possibility of un-
limited reproduction detracts from the intrinsic value of an object
of art. To the art-lover, as distinguished from the collector,
uniqueness per se can give no value to an inartistic object; but
the distinction, the personal quality, of a beautiful object is cer-
tainly enhanced when it is known to be alone of its kind as in
the case of the old bronzes made d cire perdue. It must, how-
ever, be noted that in some cases as in that of bronze-casting
the method which permits reproduction is distinctly inferior to
that used when but one object is to be produced.

In writing on objects of art, it is difficult to escape the charge

192 The Decoration of Houses

of saying on one page that reproductions are objectionable, and
on the next that they are better than poor "originals." The
United States customs laws have drawn a rough distinction be-
tween an original work and its reproductions, defining the former
as a work of art and the latter as articles of commerce; but it
does not follow that an article of commerce may not be an ade-
quate representation of a work of art. The technical differences
incidental to the various forms of reproduction make any general
conclusion impossible. In the case of bronzes, for instance, it
has been pointed out that the cire perdue process is supe-
rior to that by means of which reproductions may be made;
nor is this the only cause of inferiority in bronze reproductions.
The nature of bronze-casting makes it needful that the final
touches should be given to bust or statue after it emerges from
the mould. Upon these touches, given by the master's chisel,
the expressiveness and significance of the work chiefly depend;
and multiplied reproductions, in lacking this individual stamp,
must lack precisely that which distinguishes the work of art from
the commercial article.

Perhaps the safest general rule is to say that the less the repro-
duction suggests an attempt at artistic interpretation, the more
literal and mechanical is its rendering of the original, the better
it fulfils its purpose. Thus, plaster-casts of sculpture are more
satisfactory than bronze or marble copies ; and a good photograph
of a painting is superior to the average reproduction in oils or

The deterioration in gilding is one of the most striking exam-
ples of the modern disregard of quality and execution. In former
times gilding was regarded as one of the crowning touches of
magnificence in decoration, was little used except where great

Bric-a-Brac 193

splendor of effect was desired, and was then applied by means
of a difficult and costly process. To-day, after a period of reac-
tion during which all gilding was avoided, it is again unsparingly
used, under the mistaken impression that it is one of the chief
characteristics of the French styles now once more in demand.
The result is a plague of liquid gilding. Even in France, where
good gilding is still done, the great demand for cheap gilt furniture
and ornaments has led to the general use of the inferior process.
The prevalence of liquid gilding, and the application of gold to
furniture and decoration not adapted to such treatment, doubtless
explain the aversion of many persons to any use of gilding in

In former times the expense of good gilding was no obstacle to
its use, since it was employed only in gala rooms, where the
whole treatment was on the same scale of costliness: it would
never have occurred to the owner of an average-sized house to
drench his walls and furniture in gilding, since the excessive use
of gold in decoration was held to be quite unsuited to such a
purpose. Nothing more surely preserves any form of ornament
from vulgarization than a general sense of fitness.

Much of the beauty and propriety of old decoration was due
to the fact that the merit of a work of art was held to consist, not
in substance, but in design and execution. It was never thought
that a badly designed bust or vase could be saved from medioc-
rity by being made of an expensive material. Suitability of sub-
stance always enhances a work of art; mere costliness never.
The chryselephantine Zeus of Olympia was doubtless admirably
suited to the splendor of its surroundings ; but in a different set-
ting it would have been as beautiful in marble. In plastic art
everything depends on form and execution, and the skilful hand-

194 The Decoration of Houses

ling of a substance deliberately chosen for its resistance (where
another might have been used with equal fitness) is rather a tour
de force than an artistic achievement.

These last generalizations are intended to show, not only that
there is an intrinsic value in almost all old bibelots, but also that
the general excellence of design and execution in past times has
handed down to us many unimportant trifles in the way of fur-
niture and household appliances worthy of being regarded as
minor objects of art. In Italy especially, where every artisan
seems to have had the gift of the pla&ticatore in his finger-tips,
and no substance was thought too poor to express a good de-
sign, there are still to be found many bits of old workmanship
clocks, appliques, terra-cottas, and carved picture-frames with
touches of gilding that may be characterized in the terms
applied by the builder of Buckingham House to his collection
of pictures: "Some good, none disagreeable." Still, no accu-
mulation of such trifles, even where none is disagreeable, will
give to a room the same distinction as the presence of a few really
fine works of art. Any one who has the patience to put up with
that look of bareness so displeasing to some will do better to buy
each year one superior piece rather than a dozen of middling

Even the buyer who need consult only his own pleasure must
remember that his very freedom from the ordinary restrictions
lays him open to temptation. It is no longer likely that any col-
lector will be embarrassed by a superfluity of treasures; but he
may put too many things into one room, and no amount of
individual merit in the objects themselves will, from the deco-
rator's standpoint, quite warrant this mistake. Any work of art,
regardless of its intrinsic merit, must justify its presence in a room

Brioa-Brac 195

by being more valuable than the space it occupies more valu-
able, that is, to the general scheme of decoration.

Those who call this view arbitrary or pedantic should consider,
first, the importance of plain surfaces in decoration, and secondly
the tendency of overcrowding to minimize the effect of each sep-
arate object, however striking in itself. Eye and mind are limited
in their receptivity to a certain number of simultaneous impres-
sions, and the Oriental habit of displaying only one or two objects
of art at a time shows a more delicate sense of these limitations
than the Western passion for multiplying effects.

To sum up, then, a room should depend for its adornment on
general harmony of parts, and on the artistic quality of such ne-
cessities as lamps, screens, bindings, and furniture. Whoever
goes beyond these essentials should limit himself in the choice
of ornaments to the "labors of the master-artist's hand."


IN the preceding pages an attempt has been made to show that
in the treatment of rooms we have passed from the golden
age of architecture to the gilded age of decoration.

Any argument in support of a special claim necessitates certain
apparent injustices, sets up certain provisional limitations, and
can therefore be judged with fairness only by those who make
due allowance for these conditions. In the discussion of aes-
thetics such impartiality can seldom be expected. Not unnatu-
rally, people resent any attempt to dogmatize on matters so
generally thought to lie within the domain of individual judg-
ment. Many hold that in questions of taste Geftthl i&t alles ;
while those who believe that beyond the oscillations of fashion
certain fixed laws may be discerned have as yet agreed upon
no formula defining their belief. In short, our civilization has
not yet developed any artistic creed so generally recognized

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