Wednesday, February 3, 2010

More Bright Colors: The Governor's Palace

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Susan reports:

There was so much interest in the eye-boggling 18th c. wallpaper from Colonial Williamsburg last week that I thought I'd follow up with two of the most brightly painted rooms in the entire town.

The large blue room is the ballroom in the Royal Governor's Palace, and the green room that opens from it is the supper room. Both were added to the palace in 1752, following the new fashion among English aristocrats to build special rooms onto their houses dedicated to dancing and socialising. The rooms are decorated in the latest London fashion for 1770 as if to suit the last royal governor, the Earl of Dunmore.

The ballroom is especially imposing because it has four life-size portraits of English royalty: King Charles II and his queen, Catherine of Braganza (because Lady Dunmore herself had Stuart blood) and, at the other end of the room, the reigning King George III and his queen, Charlotte. The portraits were meant to remind guests that the royal governor was the stand-in for the Crown, and the king literally stood behind his representative, even here in the distant colonies.

The ballroom is very large, historically large enough to hold a ball with 200 guests in attendance. Obviously not all guests danced at once. There would likely be a good many who never made it away from the
card or dining tables in one of the other
rooms, and others who simply passed the evening sitting in the chairs along the walls, flirting or gossiping.

The ballroom was designed to impress with its high arching ceiling, elaborate moldings, and crystal chandelier, but it's the brilliant blue walls, edged all around with gold, that first catch the eye. The wall-to-wall patterned carpet, woven to match, adds more color with vivid gold, pink, and purple.

With daylight streaming in through the tall windows, the effect is almost gaudy. However, the ballroom was used almost exclusively at night, and by candlelight (we NHG attended an evening ball lit entirely by candles) the colors are much more subdued and more elegant, too.

The same can be said of the adjoining supper room with its Chinese-inspired woodwork, brilliant green painted walls, and more patterned wool carpet. When the evening grew late and the guests exhausted from dancing, the doors to the supper room were opened and a lavish late meal was served here. Another set of doors at the opposite end of the room opened directly onto the formal gardens, where on warm nights guests could wander and amuse one another, and the green walls of the supper room were echoed by the trees outside.

Reader Lyn S. told us how bright the colors were in another 18th c. house, George Washington's Mt. Vernon. Here's the link for a virtual tour -- check out the bright green in the dining room!


Ingrid said...

I love the bench! It's so beautiful.

Will we be getting pictures of the ball as well? In what capacity did you attend? As spectators in modern dress, or did you participate?
Was it usual to dance on a carpeted floor? Surely these days a smooth floor is considered best for dancing.

nightsmusic said...

After I donned my sunglasses for the green room... ;o)

Lovely. I imagine the candlelight would give the rooms a more luxurious air. Even my house looked much nicer by candlelight when the eastern part of the US lost power for four days. A part of me could have been happy like that.

What always amazes me that all of the original woodwork, furniture, would have all been done by hand. There are few craftsmen these days who still do that. Gorgeous.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Ingrid, we asked the same question about dancing on carpet, and were told that yes, ballroom carpeting was very common in great houses at the time. The carpet is a flat-weave wool, without any pile, and is tacked down so it doesn't slide, and the dancers didn't seem to have any trouble with it at all. But it did surprise us, too.

As for photographs from the ball -- I'm very sorry to say there aren't any. Not from our shyness, mind you, for 21st c. participants are invited to join in, which we did. But to preserve the "feeling" of an 18th c. event, cameras are prohibited, and I'm perfectly fine with that! Much better to be able to enjoy the experience at the time than to have people jockeying up to the front with flashing cameras and camcorders. I've also been told that, since the music is all live as well, flashes really play havoc on the musician's eyes as they're trying to perform, and that, too, is an excellent reason.

LorettaChase said...

I first saw these rooms by candlelight--and that was an unforgettable introduction. But depending on the time of day--or the season of the year, the vivid color wouldn't necessarily be overpowering in the daytime. On cold, grey days, it would be cheering and warming, I think. Ingrid, the balls I attended with Susan were night-time programs, with the visitors as spectators but asked to join in the dance (a lot harder than it looks, believe me.) We both thought it was interesting that they danced on a carpeted floor, and I remember one of us asking about it but can I remember the answer? I shall leave that to Susan.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Theo, EVERYTHING is improved by candlight, including us. *g*

I can, however, happily report that there are modern craftsmen capable of this level of skill. While many of the buildings in Colonial Williamsburg are original structures, the Governor's Palace didn't even survive to the end of the Revolution. It burned to ground in 1781, perhaps the work of an arsonist. By then its glory-days were already passed, and since it was serving as a military hospital by then, I doubt that much of the original decor remained.

The Palace today is a recreation based on records, leters, drawings, and archeological studies that was built in the 1930s. Everything was reconstructed using original methods, and yet it's constantly updated, too, as new research discovers more about the original building (though "updating the past" does sound a little odd!)

Here's the CW link for more info about the Palace:

LorettaChase said...

I see that my and Susan's comments are going up together. I'd add one thing: the dancing was noisier than I'd expected, and I could imagine it would be extremely noisy on a hard wood floor. It's amazing how loud footfalls sound--even on a carpet-- when there's no ambient noise of electrical motors, and only a solitary instrument providing the music.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Obviously Loretta and I are procrastinating from our work at exactly the same time --!

In addition to the ball at the Governor's Palace, I've also attended other balls that were held in the Capitol (another public space used for dancing in colonial times, though not as large nor as elegant as the Palace.) There the floor is hard (though I can't quite remember if it's wood, or stone tiles) and uncarpeted, and the sound of the footfalls is much more audible.

In both cases, what you're very aware of is the sound of the fabrics -- silk rustles much more than you'd think -- and also that much conversation goes on among the dancers. All the dances except for the minuet involve a lot of switching partners, making circles and lines, and it's all very jolly and social. I expect, too, that as the night went on and more and more liquor was consumed, that things got increasingly boisterous, too. :)

Ingrid said...

It was very brave of you both to join in! Those country dances always look very complicated in films. Pity about the pictures, but I see how no flashing must have heightened the experience.
Seeing clothes move on people gives you a different picture of them, doesn't it? Very different from the static picture on a mannequin in an exhibition.
Weren't silks prized especially for their rustle? During the Belle Epoque rich women would wear silk petticoats with ruffles, just for the frou-frou sound of it.

ILoveVersailles said...

I would love to go to a fancy party and ball in this room! How did you get invited?

Rowenna said...

Ingrid--you're right, they are complicated! I attended a Christmas party where we did some dancing (a couple pics on my blog, sadly not as many as I'd like). It was harder than it looks! I can actually see how carpetting would help--those eighteenth-century shoes have very little traction, and unlike modern dance where you want to have some slide and give (like in swing or salsa) it's not going to help with the precise counting and figures of eighteenth-century dances. I almost bit it while circling a couple times on the wood floor in my friends' home!

And I love the sound of rustling silk :)

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Ingrid, the sound of that rustling silk really is distinctive! I wish there was some way we could have taped it to add to this blog. And yes, seeing the clothes in motion really is an experience. Because they're all replicas of originals, the wearers don't have to be careful, but move with the same little flourishes that I'm sure 18th c. people did. Loretta and I particularly liked how the gentlemen's coats flared around around them as they moved. Very cool, and unexpected.

As for our dancing expertise, both Ingrid and Rowenna ARE right. Those dances ain't easy. The "professionals" dance most of the dances as a performance, but there's usually a couple of easier ones where they haul game members from the audience out onto the floor. Then they are pushed, pulled, and guided through the steps with a great deal of laughter, and to much better effect than should be expected. Let us say the interpreters are excellent teachers! *g*

Amberlyn, there's no "invitation" to the CW balls. They're usually at least once a week in the evening, and open to anyone with a pass who buys an additional evening program ticket. Tickets cost about the same as a movie ticket: a movie, or a candle-lit ball? Do you even have to ask? *g*

Leah Marie Brown said...

I just returned from a month-long trip around Europe, where I visited many homes and historic buildings. It was in Trier Germany that I saw something that drew my interest...the ceiling of the cathedral in the center of the town looked like a piece of Wedgewood china. It was bright Delft blue with the white work over it. I have never seen such such a ceiling in a cathedral. I wish I could post a photo for you but there is no way to attach. I will add it to my blog and you can take a look. I think the color will surprise you.

Thanks for another great blog entry.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Leah, if you do post the picture of the cathedral ceiling on your own blog, would you please share the link? I'd love to see it!

Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket