When looking at Georgian furniture it is easy to go straight to the chair frame to look at its patina, carving, and style. The upholstery on chairs of this date is often replaced, but there are rare occasions when the original textile survives.
Today we are focusing on a few pieces from our collection that features a specific type of upholstery: needlework. This traditional technique was an expensive and fashionable style in its time and is worthy of a closer look.
Shown here is an exceptional pair of side chairs attributed to William Hallett. This very fine pair of chairs has an interesting and illustrious history, tracing back to two distinguished houses. The chairs are photographed in situ at Hanbury Hall, Worcestershire, circa 1916 along with other pieces from the original suite, which comprises of six chairs, one wing armchair, and one sofa.
The finely worked early eighteenth century French needlework features colourful acanthus-wrapped and ribboned arabesques woven on a golden ground. The scenes depicted on the cartouches feature three recurring designs: two of the designs are figurative and one depicts mythical aniamls. Lucy Wood, in her seminal publication, The Upholstered Furniture in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, suggested that it is certainly possible that the needlework and frames have always been together. She suggests that the deep-sided sofa fits the panels ‘remarkably well’ and that the English frames may have been made to fit the imported panels (vol I, p. 328). The central tent stitched cartouches feature flowered brackets and fanciful Oriental scenes depicting classic activities including weaving and wine-making. The seat cartouches show vignettes of umbello’d and dragon-guarded tazzae of fruit.
The inspiration for these scenes come from Chinese woodblock prints and porcelain ornamentation from the Kangxi period (1662-1722). There are similar examples of ornament on mid-18th century French giltwood fauteuils by Pierre Bara in the Drawing Room at Scone Palace.
The needlework is attributed to the workshop of the tapissier Planqué at St. Cyr. The convent school of St Cyr was founded by Mme de Maintenon (1635-1719) after her marriage to Louis XIV in 1683 and opened in 1686.
Next up is this outstanding George II period carved walnut shepherds crook armchair. The walnut is of magnificent colour throughout, witht outswept arms in the form of shepherds crooks, standing on exceptional front cabriole legs carved at the knees with cabochon and stylised acanthus leaves terminating in pronounced ball and claw feet, the rear legs outswept.
The chair is upholstered in superb eighteenth century floral needlepoint, which is highlighted in Lanto Synge’s Mallett Millennium (1999, p. 60, fig. 58).
Our final example today is a George II carved walnut side chair in the manner of Giles Grendey. We have reupholstered this seat in eighteenth century French needlepoint. The strong colours of the needlepoint complement the rich patina of the walnut.
The use of French textiles on English chairs was a practice used in the eighteenth century as shown with the first example of chairs in today’s post attributed to William Hallett.