Review by Liz Dexter
Robyn Lea has a theory that there is a new Renaissance happening among creative women, who are expressing themselves and their creativity in every aspect of their lives, from their art works or businesses (or both) through their living spaces, sometimes multiple. She visits twenty of them in sixteen chapters (some chapters feature mother-daughter pairs or sets of sisters) in this book, which can best be described as sumptuous, ranging across the Western world (Europe, North America, with one visit to Mexico, and Australia) and from ancestral castles to more recent places nestling on the Hudson River. The women’s ages vary and their interests, too: here we find jewellery designers, artists, interior designers, fashionistas, sculptors and chefs. Their houses tend to mix the old and new, the inherited and the commissioned, in sometimes almost overwhelming clashing patterns, sometimes in calm and almost ascetic spaces.
Not all the women started out as wealthy as they appear to be now. Some are descendants of big designing or European aristocratic families but others started out more middle or lower class. All seem uncompromising in their attitude to creating their surroundings, whether that’s making interesting collections, showcasing their own art works or introducing highly modern pieces into ancient interiors. We do start out with a woman in a castle; but a woman who was very reluctant to up sticks and move into her husband’s ancestral castle. Many of the women’s stories are unexpected and interesting. The pandemic plays a part and the texts do not shy away from the panic attacks, bereavements, family conflicts and complex paths some of these women have experienced.
The introduction shares the author’s theory of the New Renaissance, cleverly comparing it to the original one (social, political and economic change precipitated by devastating pandemics, globalisation and the like) and making a claim that the way these women honour “art, life, beauty and the human spirit” “benefits the Earth and all of humanity”. A big claim, but many of the women are involved in foundations and the like, or give a message about ecology and sustainability. There’s talk of the democratisation of art, which is not massively represented here, but it’s true that many of the women have twisted free of patriarchal frameworks, living and working on their own terms, often with their daughters or sisters.
Of course the book is beautifully produced – a tactile cover with indented title, a sewn binding, gorgeous endpapers, beautiful glossy and sharp photographs and readable, well-designed text. There is so much detail in some of the photographs and the items and collections they reproduce that you can stare at them for ages. I enjoyed these visits to some very different lives, although I might have liked a bit more diversity in terms of locations and subjects. Robyn Lea is an Australian photographer, author and director who has written several books and featured in high-end magazines as well as having her own solo exhibitions.
Liz has a slightly smaller and more prosaic house than the ones pictured here. She blogs about reading, running and working from home at http://www.librofulltime.wordpress.com
Robyn Lea, A Room of Her Own: Inside the Homes and Lives of Creative Women (Thames & Hudson, 2021). 978-1760761745, 240 pp., col. ill. hardback.
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