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The Metropolitan Museum in New York held a really interesting, small exhibit earlier this year, and while the exhibit has closed( it ended in July this year) its catalogue is still available to purchase, and that is the book under review here today.   The title of the catalogue (and the exhibit) is self-explanatory: Rooms with a View: the Open Window in the 19th Century . The exhibit still has a page on the museum’s website, accessible here, and here is a page of images from the exhibition and catalogue. And now a confession. Prepare yourself for something truly dreadful. While these picture have much artistic merit, I throughly enjoy looking a them for not only do the majority of them date  from our period          ( 1800-1829)  they also give us tantalising glimpses of what homes of the period looked like. I am by nature a very nosy person ( not with malicious intent, note!) and glimpsing the interiors of homes as I pass by, on foot or when travelling by trian or bus, is one of my secret pleasures. You are probably appalled by this confession, but I love that moment in the year when darkness falls and people illuminate their homes but don’t pull back the curtains, as then I can sneak a glimpse of other rooms and other lives….. This exhibit allows us to do the same , but in rooms similar to those that Jane Austen and her characters would have known, and without any attendant accusations of voyeurism. I will show you a few of the pictures contained in the exhibition and the catalogue: the catalogues is 204 pages long and has detailed critical entries on 70 paintings, 115 illustrations including 110 in full and sumptuous colour. The first  one I find fascinating for the view it gives us of the effect of candlelight in a room. This painting, Man Reading by Lamplight, is by the German artist Georg Friedrich Kersting and it dates from 1814. The chap’s room is lit by a Bouillotte lamp which was first developed in the late 18th century in France to illuminate card players tables in the dark evenings.This chap is using his for a much better purpose, for reading. His room and its furniture is fascinating. Look at the bookcase with its attached reading stand. He has a green window blind. Jane Austen would no doubt approve… The next picture is also by Kersting but is nearly a decade later in execution, dating from 1823. It shows  a woman embroidering by the light of an Argand lamp. Argand lamps were popular from teh late 18th century onwards because they produced a very bright, even light and no smoke. They were powered by oil. Perfect for our seamstress/embroideress here. This painting also by Kersting shows Louise Seidler,the artist. She is embroidering at an open window, the light good enough for the task but her privacy is screened by the plants growing on the windowsill. I am intrigued by the painting on the wall festooned with ivy(?)…and I love the window dressing. We move to Paris for the next paining, executed by Louise -Adeone Drolling circa 1820. it is most probably a self-portrait of the artist in the studio she shared with her brother, the artist, Michael Martin Drolling who also had pictures in this exhibition. I like to think this may be the type of activity Fanny Price may have attempted in her room of her own…tracing a flower by holding it against the pane of glass in the window. The final picture puts me in mind of Anne Elliot and Captain Harville in Persuasion, shown during their vital discussion at the White Hart Inn: Again by Kersting its date is exactly  in keeping with Persuasion, 1817. This is a wonderful catalogue, I have found myself looking thought it again and again since it arrived in the post, wondering whether the rooms were like those inhabited by Mr Knightley and Emma, Fanny Price and Anne Elliot. I can highly recommend it to you.

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