The Victorian Washstand

William Burges Washstand was made in the 19th century, in 1880. Burges was a Victorian Architect and designer and designed the piece. John Walden handcrafted the Washstand. The design features a carved, painted and gilded wood, alongside a marble top and basin inset with silver; also two bronze taps. The piece demonstrates amazing skill and time put into it. Burges’s design is based on the poem ‘Vita Nove’ by the Italian poet Dante, which means New Life. This suggests the feel of new beginnings and a fresh start, there are many wildlife and plants hiding amongst the craved detail, similar to a garden full of spirits and joyful colours, giving the object context and character.

The Washstand was also designed from the idea of medieval churches, which reflects Burges’s characteristic mix of scholarly sources and playful humor. It was used for his guest bedroom, suggesting he was wealthy and has a big house. The artifact is grand and shows a lot of intricate detail, including expensive materials, there was silver formed carp’s in bottom of the marble sink, which looks like they are swimming, especially if there was water in it. There is a second upper tap for rinsing, with geometric shaped mirrors at eye level. The washstand is something you use first, when you wake up, and the last thing you use before sleeping. Therefore it must be grand and memorable experience. This notion compliments the poem and fresh starts.


burges washstand.jpg

I felt overwhelmed by it’s large scale and beautiful features. I wanted to use the taps and run my fingers across the carved draws. I could tell it was a one off piece and probably privately commissioned for the upper Victorian class, before I researched about it. It has a strong sense of wealthy Victorian heritage as not only the materials used and the craftsmanship, but also the sheer fact that washstands consist of a bowl on top of a table. This piece does more than just function as a wash station, it is a piece of artwork, with a interesting design, where you can tilt the marble basin to get rid of the dirty water through the bottom.

The two-tap process, demonstrates the status of person washing in it, as they have the privilege of being able to rinse and use excess water. Early 19th century washstands did not have such features, therefore this piece of design has shaped and developed the understanding and concept of the wash station, Now traditionally know as the bathroom sink. In my bathroom I have a sink (wash basin) with draws under and a mirror on the wall above, extremely similar to the concept of Burges’s design.

The artifact is kept in the V&A museum. It compliments the power of the British Empire, but the museum itself. I am not surprised it is homed here, as the museum holds many interesting objects. I for one have never seen such an incredible object. For such a large object, the museum has not dwelled on its artwork, but its history. Which I think is quite sad. Yes, its very important to think about the history of each artifact, but this object has so much more hidden gems, such as the craftsmanship, the size and the design, which get overlooked when viewing it on site.


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