Pattern and propaganda

A piece of Victorian propaganda, in the form of a fine linen damask tablecloth is set to come under the hammer in Tennants’ auction of Vintage Costume and Textiles on 13th May. When the intricately woven cloth catches the light, a detailed design is revealed, which commemorates the victory of the British Empire in the Crimean War (1853-6).

The edge is decorated with a band of medallions depicting famous figures connected to the war, such as Queen Victoria, Lord Cardigan, Omer Pacha and Florence Nightingale, and the centre with reserves of martial honours commemoration famous battles and Royal coats of arms.

The Crimean War was the first conflict in the age of mass media; the British Empire became involved in a conflict in the Balkans between Russia and Turkey to limit the influence of Russia, and strengthen their own dominion in the region. However, printed propaganda told the story of the mighty British Empire coming to the aid of a defenceless Turkey against the might of Russia. Public support for the war was widespread. After the war, the victory was glorified in the minds of the British public, not least by the production of such items as the tablecloth. Indeed, the inclusion of Florence Nightingale, a populist figure, amongst the royalty and military was a way of engendering support, glorifying the war and promoting the ambitions of the Empire.

These intricate tablecloths were made by D Dewar & Sons of Dunfermline exclusively for retail in London. Dewars also made a one-off silk and linen version for display at exhibitions, which was much ‘admired by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert at Balmoral’ and which is now held in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

The tablecloth is part of the Goodrich Court Collection, Herefordshire, the home of Harold Charles and Blanche Moffatt, and is being sold with an estimate of £400-600. Also up for sale are a set of twenty-one Crimean War Commemorative Linen Damask Napkins, woven with central laurel wreath commemorating the Siege of Sebastopol and four smaller wreaths to each corner celebrating other victories in the Crimean War (estimate: £150-250).

A fully illustrated catalogue for the sale of Vintage Costume and Textiles is available here; alternatively, please contact the salerooms for further details.

Illustrated: Detail of the ‘Crimean Hero’ Tablecloth (Estimate: £400-600 plus buyer’s premium), showing Empress