Case Study: Osterley Park and House
This case study seeks to highlight Osterley Park’s East India Company (EIC) heritage and the role of EIC trade in the Indian Ocean in shaping the house and its interiors. Rather than focusing on the period of Adam’s interventions in Osterley House (and their European orientation), we focus on the arrival of furnishings and objects from the ‘Orient’ prior to the 1760s. The first section of this case study focuses on the hitherto unknown connections between the Child family and the East India Company. In presenting a biographical account of Francis Child the elder (1642-1713) and his financial dealings we present a more complex, if not complete, picture of the role of moneyed individuals such as Francis Child the elder in shaping the course of maritime mercantile trade conducted by the EIC in its transitional years from being a medium-sized charter Company to being a global trading and administrative force in Asia. As this study demonstrates, three generations of the Child family were in the strong position of making decisions for the Company as Directors and Chairmen. While they were certainly astute businessmen, this study aims to highlight their personal and emotional investments in acquiring objects to furnish their home at Osterley Park. His son Robert Child’s (1674-1721) active involvement in one of the foremost artistic forums of the period, the St. Luke’s or Van Dyke’s Club, is an important context for considering his role as the primary creative force for refurbishing Osterley Park after it was acquired by his father. His role as Director of the EIC for over a decade further substantiates our hypothesis that he had the means and the ability to acquire the choicest of decorative pieces and textiles from Asia for Osterley Park.
As this study shows, material objects were not only part of commodity trade between Britain and Asia, but they were also carriers of personal aspirations and memories of East India Company servants who had spent time in Asia. Thus, they were constitutive of the wider emotional economy of maritime trade. A section of this study, therefore, focuses on the Childs’ own maritime investments in shipping. It is through the acquisition of these objects – Chinese armorial porcelain, lacquerware and silks, Indian textiles, and furniture—that the Childs created a distinctive visual identity and enduring status for their family in London society. Moreover, as we see, these objects (especially armorial ware) were often the result of personal choice; they were commissioned selectively and acquired through private trade by Company merchants and representatives in Asia, the objects themselves harboring the complex interactions of European and Asian artistic exchange.
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