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Watercolour - The Kitchen at Elmswell Hall, York
  • The Kitchen at Elmswell Hall, York
    Best, Mary Ellen, born 1809 - died 1891
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The Kitchen at Elmswell Hall, York

  • Object:

    Watercolour

  • Place of origin:

    Little Driffield (painted)

  • Date:

    1834 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Best, Mary Ellen, born 1809 - died 1891 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Watercolour

  • Museum number:

    P.11-1983

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level H, case WD, shelf 4, box A

Mary Ellen Best (1809-1891) was a highly skilled watercolourist. She specialised in views of domestic interiors and designed some herself. The depiction of this kind of interior in such accurate detail was quite unusual at this period. Some of the arrangements seem to be a bit makeshift, particularly the way the dough trough is supported by a chair. The chairs look as if they date from the mid 18th century. They were probably relegated to the servants’ area when the dining room of the Manor was more fashionably decorated. The woman is probably the cook, one of a number of servants tending a wealthy family.

Physical description

Brightly coloured watercolour view of a farm house kitchen, showing a woman inspecting bread dough rising in a dough trough, which is supported by a chair.

Place of Origin

Little Driffield (painted)

Date

1834 (painted)

Artist/maker

Best, Mary Ellen, born 1809 - died 1891 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Watercolour

Marks and inscriptions

Mary Ellen Best May 1834
Signature; date; Front, on rafter, top right

Dimensions

Height: 45 cm framed, Width: 55 cm framed

Object history note

Sold as lot 205, Sotheby's New York Sale, 21/01/1983

Historical context note

Best was a highly skilled watercolourist and specialised in domestic interiors, including ones she had designed herself. The depiction of this kind of interior in such accurate detail was quite unusual at this period. Some of the arrangements are shown as a bit makeshift, particularly the way the dough trough is supported by a chair. The bundle on the dresser on the right may be a previous batch of dough proving under a cloth, with books, a jug and an up-turned plate placed to restrain it. The chairs look as if they are mid 18th century, finally relegated to the servants' area from the more fashionably decorated dining room of the Manor. The woman is probably the cook, one of a number of servants tending a wealthy family.

Descriptive line

The Kitchen at Elmswell Manor House, Yorks. Watercolour painted by Mary Ellen Best, 1834.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

The world of Mary Ellen Best. Caroline Davidson. 1985.

Labels and date

[The following was compiled for the Elise Project in c.1993 by an unknown person in Records & Collections. This text was unauthorized by Paintings Department, hence its errors. CN 28.6.2002]

Best was an amateur and seems to have specialised in domestic interiors. Each of her pictures is dense with telling detail. This comfortable farmhouse kitchen has as its focus the female labour that constructs and shapes it. To the left hang newly-washed clothes; cups, dishes and a tea-pot are set out for a meal on a low table, whilst the woman herself attends to the baby's cot resting on a chair. The furniture is polished, the crockery is neatly ranged on the dresser; all is clean, neat and ordered, a paradigm of working-class domestic respectability. []

Production Note

Elmswell Manor House, Little Driffield, Yorks

Materials

Watercolour

Techniques

Painting

Subjects depicted

Bread making; Kitchens

Categories

Drawings; Paintings; Interiors

Production Type

unique

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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