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Chair seat

  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    1730-50 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    embroidered in wools and a little silk on canvas ground

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Dame Ethel Locke King

  • Museum number:

    T.120P-1956

  • Gallery location:

    Furniture, Room 133, The Dr Susan Weber Gallery, case BY2, shelf CASE, box WALL

This embroidered panel comes from a set of more than 20 intended as covers for chairs and a settee. The scenes depicted on them vary between mythology and pastoral or seasonal pursuits, like skating, but are all characterised by beguiling figures in idealised landscapes, surrounded by abundant flowers. This panel shows the nymph Daphne fleeing from the God Apollo, who had been made to fall in love with her by Cupid’s arrow. Daphne prayed to her father for her form to change, and she became a tree, her arms sprouting leaves, and her legs becoming rooted into the ground.

Covers made for chairs, settees and stools are among the richest sources of eighteenth century pictorial needlework. They were undertaken both by professional workshops, and by amateur needlewomen, particularly in the form of canvaswork. This was usually worked in the basic counted thread stitches of tent stitch and cross stitch, learnt by most girls as part of their needlework education. Skill at needlework was considered an accomplishment in women, who could demonstrate their expertise by embroidering decorative yet functional items such as chair seats. While most of the embroidery here is in tent stitch, the faces and hands of the figures are additionally embroidered over with a type of speckling stitch, which gives texture and allows for great subtlety in shading the flesh tones. This work is of very high quality, and indicates the embroidery was done in a professional workshop, rather than domestically, which was the story associated with them in the donor's family.

Physical description

Chair seat, embroidered in wools and a little silk mostly in tent stitch on canvas ground. The central scene is of the nymph Daphne being chased by Apollo who reaches towards her. Her fingers are sprouting leaves, and her legs and feet turning into rooted tree trunks. To the left a river god is watching, crouching by a stream. While most of the embroidery is in tent stitch, the faces and hands of the figures are additionally embroidered over with a type of speckling stitch, which gives texture and allows for great subtlety in shading the flesh tones. There is a deep surround of intertwining flowers, mostly stylized large blooms, on a brown ground. These and the central scene are worked in a range of colours originally vibrant, whose brightness is retained on the reverse.

The embroidery has been pulled into a parallelogram shape by the embroidery stitches. It retains its bare canvas edges, which show no signs of the seat having been used. The canvas has selvedges at top and bottom, and is hemmed at each side. On the canvas edge to the right of the worked seat is a small area of trial embroidery stitches carried out in orange and a little blue wool. There are traces of pencil lines on the canvas indicating the shape of the seat to be worked.

Place of Origin

England (made)

Date

1730-50 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

embroidered in wools and a little silk on canvas ground

Dimensions

Width: 66 cm top edge whole object, Width: 53.5 cm top edge pictorial scene, Width: 67 cm bottom edge whole object, Width: 62 cm bottom edge pictorial scene, Height: 59 cm left side whole object, Height: 53.5 cm left side pictorial scene, Height: 58 cm right side whole object, Height: 54.5 cm right side pictorial scene, Width: 73 cm footprint of object on display

Object history note

Part of a large bequest of embroidered seat furniture. The bequest comprised :
a settee seat and back with 3 animal (fable?) scenes in each; 2 octagonal panels with story of infant Pan; 2 cushion covers with scenes in German style; 4 cushion covers; 2 cushion covers with scenes representing Seasons ?;12 small cushion covers with scenes from Ovid's Metamorphoses.

In letter from the donor's nephew Stewart Gore-Browne he writes :
“They were worked by the first Lady King and her ladies. She was the wife of Peter Ist Baron King who was Lord Chancellor from 1725 to 1733. His mother was the sister of John Locke the philosopher.” He believed they were brought from Ockham, the family seat, to Brooklands, where they were found by Dame Ethel Locke King, who had them framed and taken care of.

The high quality of the embroidery, particularly the figures, indicates that it was done in a professional workshop, rather than domestically, the story associated with them in the donor's family.

The embroideries appear to have entered the Museum framed, but as the framing was modern have been unmounted since.They do not seem to have been stretched and mounted for their original purpose of chair covers.

Historical context note

Covers made for chairs, settees and stools are among the richest sources of eighteenth century pictorial needlework. Sets were embroidered often with a mix of pastoral, biblical and classical scenes, enclosed in approximately matching floral wreathes to give unity to the set. They were undertaken both by professional workshops, and by amateur needlewomen, patrticularly in the form of canvaswork, which was usually worked in the basic counted thread stitches of tent stitch and cross stitch, learnt by most girls as part of their needlework education. Skill at needlework was considered an accomplishment in women, who could demonstrate their expertise by embroidering decorative yet functional items such as chair seats. Sometimes furniture was commissioned specifically to accommodate and display fine embroidery.

Engraved illustrations in public circulation might be copied directly or indirectly, to provide subject matter.

Descriptive line

canvaswork chair seat, Apollo and Daphne, 1730-50, English

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Lucy Wood, The Upholstered Furniture in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Yale University Press, 2008, pp. 82 and 84.

Labels and date

Chair seat cover
About 1730–50

England
Embroidered in wool and silk on canvas ground
With scene showing Daphne and Apollo

Bequeathed by Dame Ethel Locke King
Museum no. T.120P-1956

An upholsterer would supply chair covers in different fabrics and styles. This cover of hardwearing canvaswork embroidery is part of a large, unused set for seats and backs. It is worked mainly in tent stitch, which pulls the canvas into a diagonal. This would have been rectified when the cover was fitted to the chair frame.
[01/12/2012]

Materials

Wool; Silk thread; Canvas

Techniques

Embroidering

Categories

Embroidery; Textiles; Furniture

Collection

Textiles and Fashion Collection

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