Running alongside the Italian Renaissance Galleries in the V&A are the museum’s three original refreshment rooms dating from the 1860s.
Each room (where you can still grab a sandwich) is in a
different style: the Poynter Room with its Japanese motifs and
Dutch-influenced tiles, the Morris Room, with its green, panelled
walls and medieval-inspired decor and - the central room in the
three linked spaces - the High Victorian decoration of the Gamble
Room in its elaborate and eclectic classical revival style.
The Gamble Room, named after James Gamble (1835-1919), a pupil of
the artist Alfred Stevens and one of the museum's own design team,
opened in 1868. Based on 16th-century Italian interiors and
inspired by Prince Albert's dairy at Windsor, it is memorable for
its painted enamel ceiling, marble fireplace, mirrored alcoves and
stained glass windows, but most of all for its wealth of majolica
wall and floor tiles.
Tiles were chosen for practical as well as decorative reasons, as
they would resist fire and steam (a grill was used to cook chops
and steaks) and were easy to clean. The gastronomic theme extends
to a frieze that runs around the room quoting from the Book of
Ecclesiasticus 2:24. It reads: There is nothing better for a man
than that he should eat and drink and that he should make his soul
enjoy good in his labour. Each individual letter is populated by a
child and/or an animal.
As a series, the tiles appear to be unique, but evidently
individual examples or prototypes were made and left South
Kensington. One appeared at the Netherhampton Salerooms, near
Salisbury on March 3. This 11 x 12in (28 x 30cm) cream glazed tile
with the initial B supported by a child with a dove had, according
to the vendor, been purchased from the studio of Editha Artlet,
founder of the House of Arts. Auctioneer Philip Rance thought it of
primarily academic interest - he estimated it accordingly at £60-80
- but it proved of considerable commercial worth too, selling at
£1200 (plus 15 per cent buyer's premium).
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