Museum of Fine Arts, Boston exhibits Rare Indian Textiles & Exotic Designs

BOSTON, MA - The textile trade between Great Britain and India flourished in the 17th century, and the influence of India and Southeast Asia upon British interior design could be found in a wide range of household objects, from soft goods such as bed hangings and wall coverings, to ceramics, and decorative screens. While few examples of these textiles imported from India to Europe during this period have survived, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), owns two rare late 17th-/early 18th-century bed hangings, one of Indian embroidered cotton, and the other of hand-painted Indian calico or chintz. On View from November 5, 2008, through June 21, 2009.

These bed hangings from Ashburnham Place in Sussex, England––which possibly hung in a bedroom––serve as the focal point for ‘And So to Bed’. The exhibition draws its name from the famous diarist Samuel Pepys, who often ended his entries with the phrase “and so to bed.” The exhibition is made possible by the Loring Textile Gallery Exhibition Fund and The David and Roberta Logie Fund for Textile and Fashion Arts. Additional support for the exhibition is provided by The Coby Foundation, Ltd.

“The 17th century was a period of great change in Great Britain, which evolved from an insular country to a world power,” said Katie Getchell, Deputy Director at the MFA. “The increasing material wealth of the people and the growing awareness of the world around them are revealed by the exotic bed-hangings and decorative arts found in this exhibition.”

The exhibition––which includes approximately 40 objects––will begin with a look at the impact of Eastern goods on English life. It will examine how the Ashburnham hangings, with their depiction of a fantastic Eastern landscape, might have found a place in a British home, as well as show how they reflected British perceptions of the then relatively unknown East.
The Ashburnham family, based in Sussex, England, since at least the 12th century, owned several estates as well as a house in London. As styles and fashions changed over the years, objects that once held pride of place were tucked away in corners and attics of stately English homes, supplanted by newer and more up-to-date models. In many cases, the cast-offs were stored away for centuries, emerging in 1953, when Lady Catherine Ashburnham died, and the contents of her house, Ashburnham Place in Sussex, were auctioned to pay death duties. Among the treasures sold from the house was a group of embroidered and hand-painted textiles made of fabric imported from India, which had been in the family since at least the early 18th century. Two of these the rare bed hangings found a home in Boston at the Museum of Fine Arts in 1953.
“There was a great desire for dyed textiles from India, as the technique, profusion of color, and fastness were unlike any found elsewhere in the world,” said Pamela Parmal, David and Roberta Logie Curator of Textile and Fashion Arts, and curator of the exhibition. “These fabrics from around 1700 provide us with a glimpse into English society during this time and the forces that shaped English taste. They tell a story about interior decoration, the growing trade with India, and the impact of contact with Asia on English design and social customs.”
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