Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Request to view at the Prints & Drawings Study Room, level H , Case WD, Shelf 4, Box A

The Kitchen at Elmswell Hall, York

Watercolour
1834 (painted)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

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.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Additional TitleThe Kitchen at Elmswell Manor House, Little Driffield, Yorks (generic title)
Materials and Techniques
Watercolour
Brief Description
The Kitchen at Elmswell Manor House, Yorks. Watercolour painted by Mary Ellen Best, 1834.
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.
Dimensions
  • Framed height: 45cm
  • Framed width: 55cm
Dimensions taken from departmental notes
Style
Production typeunique
Marks and Inscriptions
Mary Ellen Best May 1834 (Signature; date; Front, on rafter, top right)
Gallery Label
[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.
Object history
Sold as lot 205, Sotheby's New York Sale, 21/01/1983
Historical context
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.
Production
Elmswell Manor House, Little Driffield, Yorks
Subjects depicted
Place Depicted
Summary
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.
Bibliographic Reference
The world of Mary Ellen Best. Caroline Davidson. 1985.
Collection
Accession Number
P.11-1983

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record createdDecember 15, 1999
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