THE FORSTER BABY HOUSE: A rare George II Palladian carved mahogany Baby House

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Lot 37
THE FORSTER BABY HOUSE: A rare George II Palladian carved mahogany Baby House

Sold for £ 43,200 (US$ 53,400) inc. premium
THE FORSTER BABY HOUSE: A rare George II Palladian carved mahogany Baby House
the three storey facade with triangular dentil pediment, with pierced balustrade and ball finials, above a central hinged bay with eight glazed windows with keystones, glazing bars, corbels and moulded ledges, with a step leading to a panelled front door, flanked by two pilasters, headed by scrolled trusses and portico; flanked by three glazed windows to each side; the larger central wing with three equal size rooms, each with a built-in fireplace, with two internal connecting doorways, each side enclosing three equal sized rooms with built-in fireplaces; the rusticated base with two blind arched window recesses, on a possibly associated stand with shaped apron and turned feet, each internal window draped with brightly coloured curtains by Oliver Ford, decorator for the late Queen Mother, 135cm wide, 66cm deep, 206cm high (53in wide, 25.5in deep, 81in high).


  • Provenance: possibly with Elizabeth and Sarah Forster at Grove House, Tottenham and thence by descent to:
    William Edward Forster, Chief Secretary to Ireland (1818-1886) and by descent to his daughter:
    Florence Vere O'Brien and thence by descent to her grand daughter:
    Elinor Wiltshire:
    Christopher Gibbs Ltd – from whom purchased by the father of the vendor.

    Exhibited: Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green, London, July 1984 to February 1998.
    The Grosvenor House Art & Antiques Fair, date unknown, as an entrance exhibit.

    The Forster Baby House
    The provenance is substantiated by a letter held on file at the Museum of Childhood written in 1971 by the then owner of the baby house, Irish photographer and botanist Elinor Wiltshire to Desmond Fitz-Gerald, the Knight of Glin at which time the Knight was a curator at the V & A Museum.
    Elinor's grandmother, Florence Vere O'Brien, sent a photograph of the baby house to the V & A Museum in 1925 enquiring as to its value; she had also made notes as to how she believed the baby house had been passed down through the family, which were re-iterated by Elinor in her letter to the Knight.
    It was thought to have originated with the Forster and Buxton family at Grove House, Tottenham via two spinster aunts (Elizabeth and Sarah Forster) and then passed by descent to William Edward Forster, Chief Secretray to Ireland (1880-1882).

    W.E.Forster married Jane Arnold, as they had no children of their own, they adopted two orphaned nephews and two nieces of Jane's. The house then passed to the elder of the girls, Florence, who married Robert Vere O'Brien, son of the Hon. Robert O'Brien of Dromoland. The couple spent two years with her family at Pheonix Park, Dublin in the Chief Secretary's Lodge, now known as Deerfield and home to the United States Ambassador to Ireland.

    The Vere O'Briens moved to Oldchurch, Robert's house in Limerick. Florence, with her education, political background and artistic ability became involved in the revival of the Limerick lace craft and helped establish the 'Limerick Lace Training School' in 1889. In 1890 Florence and Robert moved to Newhall, near Ennis and in 1899 they moved to Ballyalla, a property previously owned by the Stacpoole family, Robert died in 1913 and Florence in 1936.

    The baby house then descended either through Elinor's mother, or direct to Elinor herself. Elinor Wiltshire was born in Limerick and founded the Green Studios on St Stephen's Green, Dublin, with her husband Reginald Wiltshire in the 1950's. Over a period of fifteen years Elinor Wiltshire captured images of a changing Dublin and its people, along with images of Traveller families across Ireland. The baby was purchased by the current owner's father from the dealer Christopher Gibbs around thirty years ago.

    Baby Houses.
    The earliest known baby houses date from the sixteenth century, and were essentially cabinet display cases made up of rooms, with miniature household items for the use of adults, not necessarily made to scale. Vivien Greene in English Dolls' Houses, (1955) drew a distinction between toy doll's houses and the great houses built by estate carpenters as a hobby for adults. Baby houses might have contained silver 'toys' and carpets and curtains which were made by the owners, while the dolls would be dressed by them. These were almost always kept on an upper landing, under lock and key. Horace Walpole, writing in 1750, says of Frederick Prince of Wales, 'The Prince is building baby houses at Kew', Frederick apparently became fascinated by them after visiting the Dowager Duchess of Brunswick, who was trying to reproduce the entire court in miniature.
    There are numerous well known Palladian style Baby Houses still in existence, namely the 'Quantock Oak' circa 1730-40, previously in Vivien Greene's collection and sold Bonhams, The Vivien Greene Doll's House Collection, Part I, 9th December 1998, lot 4, this had been bought some years previously from a dealer in the Quantocks. The 'Throstlenest House' again sold by Bonhams, 14th November 2006, lot 131, again had no pre-20th century provenance. The most detailed Palladian example remaining in the house for which it was created is that at Nostell Priory, Yorkshire. This baby house was designed for Susannah Lady Winn, wife of Sir Rowland, 4th Baronet, in the 1730s, whilst her husband was busy building Nostell Priory.

    An Irish Connection?
    It is possible that the Forster baby house could have started life in Ireland as the early provenance in London is merely family tradition. With its dark mahogany colour, rich patination and strong Palladian features reminiscent of a Georgian Dublin town house, it is still possible that it came into the family through the Irish connections in the 19th century.
    The most relevant known comparable with Irish provenance is the Leixlip Castle baby house, which started life at Newbridge House, Donabate, Co.Dublin. Vivien Greene in Family Dolls Houses records that it was built in 1737 by the well-known German architect, Richard Cassels (Castle), who was the architect for Newbridge House itself. Current thought, however, is that it was the Dublin architect George Semple that built Newbridge House in 1749 for the Archbishop of Dublin, Charles Cobbe, and this leaves open the question of who did create these fascinating miniature houses?

Saleroom notices

  • Please note: This is George III not II
THE FORSTER BABY HOUSE: A rare George II Palladian carved mahogany Baby House
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