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Smithsonian

Victorian Parlor Collage, c. 1880 from Smithsonian American Art Museum

In the 1840s, photography was introduced in the U.S. allowing a wider range of Americans to afford portraits and decorative images. The parlor became the center of middle-class domestic life, a place where objects such as painted tintypes and hand-colored photographs reflected a family’s aesthetics, status and history.

Collages like the one shown here are typical of the “scrapbook houses” made by young, middle-class girls in the 19th century, helping to prepare them for domestic life through designing the interior spaces that would one day convey their families’ status and values.

Pictures in the Parlor” examines decorative images from the mid-19th century through the early 20th century that were used in domestic interiors. More on the history, practice and power of photography at the Smithsonian Archives’ Click! Photography Changes Everything