Today’s Summer Vacation activity is about twenty years after the 19th century…but it’s just so amazing and fascinating that I’m going to talk about it anyway…and the neat thing is that if you happen to be in the vicinity of Windsor Castle, you too can see it.
What “it” is is Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House. Queen Mary (born 1867, married Prince George of York 1893, became queen 1910, died 1953) was a noted collector of art and trinkets—objets d’art—with an especial fondness for miniatures. In fact, hostesses often put away their trinkets when the queen was coming for a visit because of her well known habit of staring longingly at an object and commenting on its beauty until its owner felt compelled to give it to her.
Her friend and cousin, Princess Marie Louise (one of the daughters of Princess Helena) was inspired in 1921 to create a dolls’ house for her as a gift, both personal and public. The Queen had been a tower of strength during the hard years of World War I, and such a gift seemed the perfect thank you. The princess enlisted the help of well-known architect Sir Edwin Lutyens to help organize…and the project snowballed, with Marie Louise calling on her extensive circle of friends and acquaintances in the arts (and on their friends and acquaintances) to help create a perfect miniature palace featuring three years of work and the labor of thousands...and the results are amazing:
Hundreds of well-known artists contributed, painting amazing tiny murals in the house or creating miniscule watercolors for the royal portfolio. Writers like Rudyard Kipling, Edith Wharton, Aldous Huxley, Arthur Conan Doyle, and hundreds of others donated work for the library, some of it unpublished elsewhere, and often handwriting it themselves in tiny 1” by 1 ½” blank volumes provided to them which were later bound in elegant gold-tooled leather (Ernest Shepard, the illustrator of Winnie the Pooh, designed the bookplates). Composers like Delius, Holst, and Bax contributed musical scores. The wine cellar contains hundreds of tiny bottles of actual vintage wines, from champagne (Veuve Cliquot 1906) to fine Madeira from 1820. The linens are all monogrammed. The tiny gramophone in the nursery actually works, and there’s electricity and hot and cold running water. There are working motor-cars and motorcycles in the Royal Garage, and the gardens were designed by famed designer Gertrude Jekyll.
The Queen was, of course, delighted. The house was exhibited to the public at the British Empire Exhibition in 1924-25 and later to raise funds for charities; now it’s on permanent display at Windsor. Want to see more? Check out this interactive website, which includes information on a new book just published about the Dolls' House, The Queen's Dolls' House by Lucinda Lambton (don't worry, it's available in the US as well). Fancy a visit? Go here for more information. I know that the next time I go to England, this will definitely be one of my stops!