Small Stories: At Home in a Doll’s House at the V&A Museum of Childhood
By way of these doll’s houses visitors gain an insight into the dreams, imaginations and realities of those who first owned these beautiful sets. Doll’s houses, which first emerged in the 17th century, were designed not to be played with but to stand as miniature representations of the homes and wealth of their owners. It wasn’t till much later that they became accepted as children’s toys. While their purpose changed, from social piece to toy, they still maintained their master mimicry of contemporary life.
These houses’ small residents with rouged cheeks and beautifully detailed attire are presented in poses evoking the daily routines of the individuals they mime. There are houses with ladies entertaining and servants busy in the kitchens, and others with women sunbathing on the roof, and families poised for an air raid in 1930s England. Through these static figures, and the houses themselves, a sense of daily life is gauged, as well as that of the etiquette, interior design and architecture of the time.
While these houses are historical markers, they are idealised versions of that history. These figures trapped within time were not subject to ebb and flow of life but were immune in their immaculate structures; therefore, the houses and their occupants are representations of the dreams and fantasies and so provided escape to their owners. With each house comes a small story, visitors are taken on journey into these tiny homes as they are presented with tales of marriages and parties, politics and crime. Such narrative is enabled through buttons alongside the showcases that activate narration and illuminate the doll’s houses.
This exhibition is as much for adults as it for children. Both will be taken by the experience of peeking into the tiny rooms, viewing their beauty and engaging in the lives of their tiny inhabitants, and the interactive element means that children will remain engaged. The exhibition includes two areas in which children can enact the lives they view within the houses. The first area allows them to become servants as they hang up washing or cook on the range; the second allows them to re-create 1960s life in a wonderfully decorated living room. For the adults there is much to be fascinated by including the social history captured in these structures, as well as the level of artistry and dedication within these truly enchanting doll’s houses.
Visitors can expect to be delighted by traditional doll’s houses, country mansions and Georgian town houses, to the less traditional of the 20th and 21st centuries, including a high-rise apartment and a modernist villa. What this exhibition highlights is that these doll’s houses are more than just toys – beautiful representations of our country’s past.
Photos: Rosie Yang
Small Stories: At Home in a Doll’s House is at the V&A Museum of Childhood from 13th December 2014 until 6th September 2015, for further information visit here.