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There were many art collections formed by wealthy merchants and manufacturers in Victorian times. However, the Sudley collection is the only one that is still complete and in its original setting.
Emma Holt bequeathed the house to the City of Liverpool in 1944. She was the daughter of George Holt, the person who put the collection together.
Sudley House was the Holt family home but would have looked very different to how it looks today. The furniture and contents were not part of the bequest, just the house itself and the art collection. Therefore, staff at National Museums Liverpool are working to recreate an authentic house with Victorian furniture, colour schemes and decoration.
Sudley House is a mix of real Victorian and the most accurate modern reproductions. Below are basic details of some of the work done by National Museums Liverpool staff to recreate the original Victorian décor.
Dining Room (right): Victorians thought of dining rooms as having a male character (probably because women left the room after dessert while the men stayed and drank and smoked). The furniture and decoration would have looked more masculine; the textures less soft.
The green wallpaper in the dining room is from the 1880s. It has not been repainted, just cleaned. It has a raised, moulded surface, made from tightly compressed flock. It has a hard surface, which was meant to contrast with the softer, more feminine surfaces in the drawing room next door.
This type of wallpaper (right) was patented by Frederic Aumonier of Woollam's. The idea of a hard, raised surface came from the very first wallpaper (by Lincrusta) which was based on linoleum. This type of wallpaper can still be bought today.
The soft furnishings and lighting in the dining room did not survive so were replaced. Wool curtains were suitable (right), again differing from the drawing room with its softer textures. We chose a woven design by William Morris, 'Honeysuckle' of 1876, because an accurate modern reproduction was available. We have used reproduction net curtains (by Warners) throughout the ground floor with the same pattern, 'Violetta'. You can see the curtains and wallpaper in this picture.
When the contents of the house were sold in 1946, it still had no electric light. The gasolier (top right) you can see in the top of the picture is a copy of an item that was listed in the sale as 'Massive copper five-light centre fitting with balance weights and opalescent shades'. A gasolier matching that description was found for us by Fritz Fryer, a specialist lighting dealer in Ross-on-Wye. The balance weights were to allow the heavy gasolier to be pulled down for cleaning. We have had it fitted for electricity.
Drawing Room (right): This view of the drawing room looks at the bay window. Here the wallpaper was originally flocked, but in the 1940s when Liverpool City Council took over the house they painted the paper, turning it from soft to hard. The soft texture was an important part of the room's message (Victorians saw the drawing room as a 'feminine' space), however we could not make the paper soft again. Instead we have repainted it close to its original colour, and have added soft-textured curtains in a silk and chenille fabric. We found this fabric at Chelsea Harbour Design Centre.
Since these photos were taken we have added tiebacks to the curtains in both rooms. They were specially made by Dr BJ Taylor of Brunswick Mill, Manchester to match the colours in the curtains.
The display at Sudley includes fine 18th and 19th century paintings (mainly British) from George Holt's collection. Superb examples from Gainsborough, Romney, Turner, Landseer, Hunt, Millais, Leighton and Rossetti are featured.
George Holt prided himself on how he presented his collection and on his personal contact with the artists. He seemed to prefer finished paintings (rather than sketches), with subjects that were religious, virtuous or showed hard countryside work.
There are also works from the Walker at Sudley, including superb examples of George Bullock furniture. Outside the house are beautiful parklands and gardens.
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