Drawing Room - History and Development

History and Development

In eighteenth-century London, the royal morning receptions that the French called levées were called "drawing rooms", with the sense originally that the privileged members of court would gather in the drawing room outside the king's bedroom, where he would make his first formal public appearance of the day.

During the American Civil War, in the White House of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia, the drawing room was just off the parlor where C.S.A. President Jefferson Davis greeted his guests. At the conclusion of these greetings, the men remained in the parlor to talk politics and the women withdrew to the drawing room for their own conversation. This was common practice in the affluent circles of the Southern United States.

In 1865, an architectural manual in England defined "drawing room" in this way:

This is the Lady's Apartment, essentially, being the modern form of the Lady's Withdrawing-room, otherwise the Parlour, or perfected Chamber of mediaeval plan. If a Morning-room be not provided, it is properly the only Sitting-room of the family. In it in any case the ladies receive calls throughout the day, and the family and their guests assemble before dinner. After dinner the ladies withdraw to it, and are joined by the gentlemen for the evening. It is also the Reception-room for evening parties. There is only one kind of Drawing-room as regards purpose: there is little difference, except in size and evidence of opulence, between that of the duchess and that of the simplest gentlewoman in the neighborhood. . . .

In size, a small Drawing-room will be about 16 feet wide by from 18 to 20 feet long: 18 by 24 feet is a good size: 20 by 30 to 26 by 40 is enough for a very superior apartment.

Until the mid-twentieth century, after a dinner the ladies of a dinner party withdrew to the drawing room, leaving the gentlemen at table, where the cloth was removed. After an interval of conversation, the gentlemen rejoined the ladies in the drawing room.

The term drawing room is not used as widely as it once was, and tends to be used in Britain only by those who also have other reception rooms, such as a morning room, a nineteenth-century designation for a sitting-room, often with east-facing exposure, suited for daytime calls, or the middle-class lounge, a late nineteenth-century designation for a room in which to relax; hence the drawing room is the smartest room in the house, usually used by the adults of the family when entertaining. This term is still widely used in India and Pakistan, probably since the colonial days, in the larger urban houses of the cities where there are many rooms.

The term parlour initially designated the more modest reception rooms of the middle classes, but usage changed in the UK as homeowners sought to identify with the grander homes of the wealthy. Parlor remained the common usage in North America into the 20th century. In French usage the word salon, previously designating a state room, began to be used for a drawing room in the early part of the 19th century, reflecting the salon social gatherings that had become popular in the preceding decades.

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