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  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1850 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Japanned wood, papier mâché, mother of pearl inlay, gilding

  • Credit Line:

    Given by G.E. Barton

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Fashion, Room 40, case CA7

Physical description

Japanned wood front legs of French cabriole form with pad feet decorated on the front with a gilt leaf. The 'knees' are decorated on either side with a group of pendant flowers, gilt, with a crude mother of pearl inlay; those on the front are larger than those on the sides. The back legs, also of Japanned wood, are round, tapering outward and curving; they are set at a diagonal to the chair seat. The chair rails are all Japanned wood. The front rail is serpentine and decorated with small gilt floral ornament with crude mother of pearl inlay at the sides, near the intersection of the legs. There is another floral ornament, larger but similarly executed, at the centre of the front rail, which has a curved apron. The side rails are also decorated with small floral ornaments, near the intersection with the front legs. These rails curve to meet the back rail, itself curved. The front corners of the frame are decorated on top with gilt foliate ornament. The seat itself is caned.

The back, of papier mâché with fretcut decoration, is fixed to the back of the seat rail but curves around to cover part of the side-rails. From these endpoints it curves upwards at an angle and then, in line with the back of the legs, reverses this upward curve. This reverse curve meets in a typical balloon-back shape. From the top rail thus formed hangs a splat whose edges are cut in a series of wave-like curves. This generally heart-shaped splat rests on a rail interconnecting the back side members; this rail is curved at top and bottom; it rests in turn on a support which connects it to that part of the back which curves around the back seat rail. Both front edges of the balloon back, including its side-members and the top-front edge in the middle of the back rail, are decorated with gilt tendril decoration. The front-centre of the balloon back, and its side-members, is decorated with a zig-zag ornament, formed of diamond-shaped pieces of inlaid papier mâché.

In the top-centre of the balloon back is a gilt foliate ornament. The splat is edged with crude mother of pearl inlay enclosing gilt tendril decoration; in its centre is a bunch of naturalistic flowers, the leaves gilt, the flowers' mother of pearl inlay partly painted. The middl back rail has in its centre a gilt foliate ornament enclosing a mother of pearl inlay flower. The back of the chair is plain.

Place of Origin

England (made)


ca. 1850 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Japanned wood, papier mâché, mother of pearl inlay, gilding


Height: 96.5 cm, Width: 45.1 cm, Depth: 47 cm

Object history note

Given to the V&A in 1923 by G.E. Barton of 182 Frant Road, Thornton Heath, Croydon.

Descriptive line

Chair of japanned wood and papier mâché, inlaid with mother of pearl. English, ca. 1850.

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

The following excerpt is taken from Jones, Yvonne, Japanned Papier-Mâché and Tinware c. 1740-1940. Woodbridge, Antique Collectors' Club, 2012 (ISBN 978 1 85149 686 0), p.23-27:

‘Paper is believed to have been invented in China in the second century AD, and the Chinese art of making papier mâché objects is almost as ancient, but knowledge of paper-making spread only very slowly and it not reach Europe until the 12th century. Paper-mills were established in France in the late 15th century and soon after, French craftsmen began using paper pulp to make architectural ornaments, snuff boxes and other small articles. There were few paper mills in England until the late 17th century, so there was little pulp from which to make comparable articles, the paper imported from France being far too expensive to be pulped for the purpose.
By the 18th century, however, there were two quite distinct branches of paper mâché manufacture in England. One was allied to the making of paper hangings, and the other, to the japanning industry. Both branches took their lead from France and this, together with the name, has not only perpetuated the myth that papier mâché was French in origin, but also overshadowed its ancient eastern history.
Not only was the term papier mâché not recognised in 18th century French dictionaries, but the Journal de l’Agriculture du Commerce (1778) sourced it to England and to the first edition of Dossie’s book, The Handmaid to the Arts (1758). Its occurrence, much later in the French edition of the Paris Exhibition catalogue of 1855, may simply have been the result of the translation of texts supplied by English manufacturers. The term is, however, currently used in France today.
It has been suggested that the term derives from problems of communication between English employers and French émigré workers in the 17th century when papier mâché was probably taken to mean ‘mashed paper’ (or chewed paper)…. The crux was the cachet of a French sounding name and the penchant in some quarters if fashionable society in the late 18th century to look upon anything French as highly sophisticated.

Some of the advantages of papier mâché, gleaned from contemporary records, partly explain its attractions and may have been sufficient, at least until the mid-19th century, to outweigh what will be seen as its long and labour intensive production processes. Foremost was its suitability for japanning, which was much in vogue in the 18th century.
Furthermore, because it could be moulded into various forms, it required no joinery and was thus incredibly strong. As solid as wood, though less hard than most, it was said to blunt tools sooner, and although heavier in mass, its strength allowed it to be used in thin sections, rendering it perfect for small light objects….By the mid-19th century, it was found that it could be steam-moulded into any curve without fear of splitting. In short, it was considered superior to both wood and metal for being lighter, sounder, and admitting of a more beautiful finish’.


Papier mache; Wood; Mother of pearl


Japanning; Inlay; Gilding

Subjects depicted





Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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