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85/948-1 Valance, mantel drape, embroidered cotton, made by Isabella Murray (daughter-in-law of Sir Henry Parkes), Australia, 1885-1895. Click to enlarge.

Valance, mantel drape, embroidered cotton, made by Isabella Murray (daughter-in-law of Sir Henry Parkes), Australia, 1885-1895

Made
This valance relates directly to the family of Sir Henry Parkes, a former premier of New South Wales and one of the founding fathers of the Australian constitution. It was made by his daughter-in-law, Isabella, who in 1884 married Varney Parkes. The previous year Isabella had accompanied Sir Henry on his tour of America and Europe after the marriage of her sister Mary to Varney. Whilst they were overseas Mary died suddenly. Isabella and Varney had five children,
of whom three survived (Mary, Murray and Norman). The family was often short of money as Varney had a chequered career as an architect, politician and businessman. Although not a distinguished architect, his practice seems to have flourished in the early 1890s, when he designed the 'Marble Bar' for George Adams' hotel in Pitt St and other buildings in the city. However he was extravagant, lost money in various unsuccessful ventures and was declared bankrupt in 1895.

Varney was notorious for his extra-marital affairs. Isabella left him to live in Edinburgh in 1899 and sought a divorce three years later. This was not granted and she returned to bring up her family alone, settling in the suburb of Waverley. A resourceful, independent woman, Isabella found employment and raised her children frugally but successfully. She lived with her daughter Mary (even after Mary's marriage) until her death in 1927.

This valance which was designed to edge a shelf or bracket is typical of the work of well educated women at the time. Flowers were a popular embroidery motif with the journal 'Castner's Monthly and Rural Australian' advising in November 1886 that 'flowers must be true to nature - in fact nature must be as carefully copied as possible'. Valances like this were the height of fashion in the late 1800s. It was not enough to have lavish displays of ornaments, vases and statuary, even the mantlepieces and shelves had to be embellished with embroidered drapery.

Marion Fletcher, 'Needlework in Australia: A history of the development of embroidery', Melbourne, OUP, 1989

Summary

Object No.

85/948-1

Object Statement

Valance, mantel drape, embroidered cotton, made by Isabella Murray (daughter-in-law of Sir Henry Parkes), Australia, 1885-1895

Physical Description

Background of black satin cut into symmetrical design of central panel with a smaller panel on either side. The central panel of lillies, ferns and pink and purple flowers is embroidered in long and short satin stitch. The smaller panels have the the same motifs. The lower edge is gently scalloped and bound in a multicoloured braid of brown/gold/green/pale green/white which is stitched to the valance. A tassel in the same colours hangs from the central point of each of the sections. Spare tassels are included. The drape is backed in black satin.

Dimensions

Height

340 mm

Width

450 mm

Depth

30 mm

Production

Made

Notes

Maker Isabella Murray (Daughter-in-law of Sir Henry Parkes)

History

Notes

Isabella Murray was one of three daughters of George Murray who in 1881 took as his second wife Mary Parkes, the second daughter of Sir Henry Parkes. Two of George Murray's daughters came out to Australia with him. Mary Murray married the youngest son of Sir Henry, Varney, in 1883 and died the same year. Twenty year old Isabella Murray accompanied Sir Henry Parkes to America and England in 1883 after his dismissal from office. The following year on her return to Australia she married Varney Parkes and went on to have five children of whom three survived (Mary, Murray and Norman). The family was often short of money as Varney had a chequered career as an architect, politician and business man and was notorious for his various affairs. Isabella left him to live in Edinburgh in 1899 and sought a divorce three years later. This was not granted and Isabella returned to Australia and raised her children alone, settling in Waverley.

Cite this Object

Harvard

Valance, mantel drape, embroidered cotton, made by Isabella Murray (daughter-in-law of Sir Henry Parkes), Australia, 1885-1895 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 25 September 2020, <https://ma.as/53639>

Wikipedia

{{cite web |url=https://ma.as/53639 |title=Valance, mantel drape, embroidered cotton, made by Isabella Murray (daughter-in-law of Sir Henry Parkes), Australia, 1885-1895 |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=25 September 2020 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}