Mantel valance, John Thomas Key, c1913. Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection, Sydney Living Museums. Photo © Jamie North

From the collection: Moama mantel valance

Hand-painted on linen, this 2.3-metre-long valance once adorned the fireplace mantel in the lounge room of a large Victorian house called Cairnsville in Moama, a country town on the NSW border with Victoria.

Cairnsville was the home of draper William Marlin, his wife, Dora Jane, known as Queenie, and their family. Queenie and William moved into the house soon after their marriage in 1910, and the frieze was painted for Queenie by her artist brother John Thomas Key sometime around 1913. 

The practice of draping shelves, brackets and chimneypieces with hangings called valances or lambrequins was highly fashionable in the late 19th century, continuing in popularity into the early 20th century. These decorative furnishings might be made of macramé lace or embroidered, appliquéd or painted on silk, velvet or linen, most commonly with floral motifs. Scenes of grazing cattle are rare. The Moama valance remained tacked around the mantelpiece in Cairnsville for many years, and over time the fringe frayed, eventually taking on a similarity to the switch at the end of a cow’s tail. 

Discover more about the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection here.
 

Mantel valance showing a rural scene of cattle in the fields

Mantel valance (detail), John Thomas Key, c1913. Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection, Sydney Living Museums. Photo © Jamie North

This article originally appeared in Unlocked: The Sydney Living Museums Gazette, our quarterly Members’ magazine.

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