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85/948-3 Valance, mantel drape, embroidered silk, made by Isabella Murray (daughter-in-law of Sir Henry Parkes), Australia, 1885-1895. Click to enlarge.

Valance made by Isabella Murray (daughter-in-law of Sir Henry Parkes)

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'. Native plants often featured and in the lead up to Australia's Federation in 1901 wattle was increasingly common. 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.

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

Summary

Object No.

85/948-3

Object Statement

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

Physical Description

Mantel drape in black satin cut into a symmetrical design of a central panel with a smaller panel on either side. The central panel is embroidered with a large branch of wattle blossoms and leaves and smaller branches on the smaller panels. From the central point at the base of each section hangs a gold tassel in chenille. The valance is edged in gold rope braid.

Dimensions

Height

425 mm

Width

530 mm

Depth

30 mm

Production

Notes

Hand embroidered satin depicting a design based on sprays of wattle. The flowers consist of small pom poms made from 10mm diameter wool. Wool embroidery yarn is used for the stems and silk chenille for the leaves. The tassels are also made from silk chenille.

Valances like these were used to decorate shelves, brackets and music stands.

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 Sir Henry's son 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.

Source

Credit Line

Gift of Mrs Jane Gray, 1985

Acquisition Date

19 June 1985

Cite this Object

Harvard

Valance made by Isabella Murray (daughter-in-law of Sir Henry Parkes) 2021, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 2 March 2021, <https://ma.as/53641>

Wikipedia

{{cite web |url=https://ma.as/53641 |title=Valance made by Isabella Murray (daughter-in-law of Sir Henry Parkes) |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=2 March 2021 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}