MIRRORS have artistic heritage. In the 19th-century, the convex kind were a source of fascination for artists who used them as props, hinting at things going on in the background.
Sometimes they included themselves in the scene — depicting their reflections grafting away at the easel. Mirrors brought light to dark palettes and gloomy interiors, just as they do today in our homes.
Convex mirrors are at the heart of a new exhibition, Reflections: Van Eyck And The Pre-Raphaelites at London’s National Gallery. The show is perfectly timed to inspire you for the winter months ahead. It’s full of ravishing colours, glinting metals and, of course, plenty of mirrors.
Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait painted in 1434 was the starting point for the exhibition. The painting caused a stir when it arrived at the gallery in 1842 and was so popular it fuelled a 19th-century fashion for convex mirrors.
The Pre-Raphaelite Dante Gabriel Rossetti had so many that his personal assistant bemoaned, “whichever way I gazed I saw myself looking at myself”.
These days round mirrors seem to be more popular than ever. They are less heavy and cumbersome than rectangular frames and can be used in all sorts of spaces.
Some are more artwork than looking glass.
Textile designer Genevieve Bennett has just launched a new braid mirror collection. Her circular mirrors sit within a leather and suede frame that comes in a variety of colour combinations, including ink and emerald or putty and dove.
For the launch at London’s Decorex exhibition, Bennett displayed the mirrors against glorious green walls, a dark green, Borough Market by Mylands and brighter Gothic Revival by Crown paints. The effect was arresting (mirrors priced from £1,050, genevievebennett.com).
Now that we’re favouring darker walls, we can be even bolder with what we put on them, because, like beautiful ring settings complementing the jewels within, mirrors shine against lustrous colours.
The National Gallery has made a point of using the palette beloved of the Pre-Raphaelites who were inspired by the Arnolfini Portrait. So the walls are deep purple, Brunswick Green, a solemn Antwerp Blue and maroon, all by Dulux.
“Now as interiors are darker and moodier, walls can take a bolder, more dramatic mirror,” says Amanda Holly, founder of Ruby In The Dust, which specialises in vintage lights, mirrors and furniture. She has a range of round mirrors, from the brass and bead flower mirror (£595) to the glitzy Sixties brass mirror, (£695, rubyinthedust.co.uk).
If you’re worried, like Rossetti’s secretary, of constantly catching your reflection, then opt for a mirror with special effects on the surface.
The Francis Round Wall Mirror has a delicately painted surface that looks like spilled ink (£400) and the Transience Mirror, a geometric pattern (£899) both from heals.com.
While the Fritz Hansen Objects Mirror is positively dream-like with its misty rainbow finish (£550, skandium.com).
Cheaper circular mirrors can be dotted around to bounce the light. Habitat has the yellow round mirror, Aimee, in the sale for £40, habitat.co.uk, and IKEA the Stockholm for £60, ikea.com.
So, where best to put your new circular acquisitions? Anywhere seems to be the answer.
“I always throw a fab mirror up in a bathroom, it adds glamour,” says Holly.
Mirrors are especially pretty by candlelight so hang them where they can reflect the flicker of flame and bring warmth to long, dark evenings.
Reflections: Van Eyck And The Pre-Raphaelites is on until April 2018, nationalgallery.org.uk. MailOnline