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This is one of a set of six very rare chair-back covers (including two for armchairs) of painted leather. They depict naive scenes of people and animals, combined with enormous insects and flowers. In their compositions, and in the total absence of scale between the various elements, they resemble the sort of needlework done by young girls in the late 17th century; and it seems likely that the painting is also ‘homemade’ rather than professional. If so this is the case, it is the only record we have that leather-painting was ever undertaken as a female endeavour. The chairs themselves presumably perished long ago, together with the seat covers which would have suffered much more in use. The fact that the back covers have been carefully preserved suggests that they may have been handed down through the family of the unusually accomplished ancestor.
Painted leather cover for a chair-back (without arms), roughly square in shape. Nail-holes around the edge. The painting shows a man confronting a deer, with a huge thistle to the right of the man (behind him). Below is a woman facing a giant tulip; and to the right of the tulip an octopus(??) and a butterfly. The painting is much rubbed.
Place of Origin
Materials and Techniques
Height: 55.5 cm, Width: 53.5 cm
Object history note
Bought from Gardiner Houlgate, Bath Auction Rooms, 9 Leafield Way, near Bath SN13 9SW, 13 November 2003, lot 800 (£2,587.75 for the set). According to the auctioneers, the chair covers 'were recently discovered in a mixed lot of textiles in a small auction and subsequently brought into our Corsham salerooms for evaluation and inclusion in sale'.
Historical context note
This is one of a set of six chair-back covers (W.26--31-2003; two for chairs with arms), painted with figures and animals in compositions reminiscent of late 17th-century raised work, with which they also share the out-of-scale relationship between the figures, large mammals and insects. This resemblance suggests that the painting may be amateur work. If so, the covers represent the only known instance of painted leather as a domestic accomplishment. The appearance of the folded edges suggests that the covers were painted before being fixed to the frames: that is, they were painted by design for their chairs (and then passed to an upholsterer for fixing), rather than being painted on the chairs, as an afterthought.
The fact that the covers have been preserved, even though the chair-frames themselves perished (presumably), suggests that they were treasured by their subsequent owners, perhaps because of a family tradition as to who had painted them. The seat covers, which would have been much more dirtied and abraded in use, were presumably discarded with the frames themselves.
Painted leather chair-back cover, with a man, a deer and a thistle, one of six, English 1660-1680
Figures; Tulip; Octopus; Thistle; Butterfly; Deer
Furniture and Woodwork Collection