Because one can never see too many paintings of banisters, here’s another picture with stairs: Eastman Johnson’s 1873 painting Not at Home.
I’m reminded of that frequent telephone gag: “‘Excuse me, is Mrs. Smythe there?’ ‘Just a moment please.’ ‘Very well.’ ‘…My apologies—she says she isn’t at home.’”
Of course, then as now the polite way of turning away an unwanted visitor was often to feign absence.
In an age of household servants and card receivers in the front hall, however, in order to pretend to be out one had better retreat to the private spaces of the house; it would be perfectly standard for the visitor to be permitted in (or at least, to have the door opened to them) so they could leave their calling card in an elaborate dish or stand left out for that purpose.
In this case, according to the Brooklyn Museum, “it is [Johnson’s] wife, Elizabeth, whom we see climbing the stairs leading to more private areas of their residence on Manhattan’s West Fifty-fifth Street.”
She leans forward and lifts her elegantly tiered skirts in her hurry to vacate the public portions of the house.
Visible through the open portière is an elegant little drawing room, with paintings, a statuette, and a crowded sideboard.
Even this part of the house is not without its homey touches, however—just beside the door sits a tiny stroller, a charming contrast to the massive grandfather clock next to it.