The Woman at Home is a “profusely illustrated” periodical depicting Britain’s 19th century sensibilities about fashion, interior design, fine arts, literature, and aristocratic life.  ISU Special Collections holds a bound compilation of volumes one and two (1893).  Assessing the volume for treatment, I came across a “confessional” by Lady Charles Beresford, a survey of her favorite things and pastimes, in which she noted that her favorite story was Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.

As my mind momentarily rested on 19th century Russia, the volume in my hands, with its careworn, homemade black velvet binding, suddenly reminded me of the portrait painter Ivan Kramskoi’s Portrait of a Young Woman Dressed in Black Velvet (1863).

Kramskoi was one of the founders of the Peredvizhniki (The Wanderers), realist painters who rejected the Russian Academy of Art’s aristocratic and ceremonial subjects and notion of  “art for art’s sake,” and instead infused their paintings with social and class commentary by depicting common people going about their everyday lives.

Like the subjects of Kramskoi’s art, there’s something humble and endearing about this amateur binding fashioned from stitched-together, piecemeal velvet, with its black sewing thread visible on the inner hinge, the more so because the volume’s content is so preoccupied with the opulence of aristocratic life.

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