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Sofa

Sofa

  • Place of origin:

    New York, USA (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1856 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Belter, John Henry, born 1804 - died 1863 (designer)
    J.H. Belter and Company (manufacturer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved solid and laminated rosewood, with varnished chestnut or oak strengthening blocks, upholstered silk damask (not original)

  • Museum number:

    W.22-1983

  • Gallery location:

    Furniture, room 133, case BY12, shelf EXP

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The curvilinear form of this sofa and its rich carvings of flowers, leaves and berries, were inspired by Rococo designs of the mid-eighteenth century. In the mid-nineteenth century the style enjoyed a revival, and John Henry Belter (1804-1863), the German-born designer and maker of this sofa, was a leading force in the Rococo Revival in the USA.

Belter's highly inventive style is epitomised by this sofa. Between 1847 and 1860 he took out numerous patents to protect his property rights in the machinery and processes used in making his furniture, including three connected with the industrial application of lamination in furniture construction. The back of this sofa is made from seven large sheets of veneer, glued together to make a laminated board. This construction would have been expensive, but lighter and stronger than an assemblage of carved wood.

Physical description

Sofa of curvilininar form, with highly carved wooden frame including cresting of flowers, foliage and berries. The back upholstered and buttoned, the seat upholstered, in silk damask (not original). Terminating in six scroll feet on castors.
Laminated and carved rosewood, chestnut or oak strengthening blocks, varnished.

Place of Origin

New York, USA (made)

Date

ca. 1856 (made)

Artist/maker

Belter, John Henry, born 1804 - died 1863 (designer)
J.H. Belter and Company (manufacturer)

Materials and Techniques

Carved solid and laminated rosewood, with varnished chestnut or oak strengthening blocks, upholstered silk damask (not original)

Dimensions

Height: 148.6 cm, Width: 232.4 cm, Depth: 114.9 cm, Weight: 103 kg

Object history note

The sofa was sold by order of the executors of Sir Alfred Owen, the industrialist, in the dispersal of the contents of New Hall, Warmley, Sutton Coldfield, on the premises by Phillips Knowle, October 27th 1982, lot 100. According to the auctioneers, the sofa was said to have been acquired from an antique shop in the 1920s.

After the sofa was purchased by the Museum in 1983 the modern red cover was removed and the under upholstery investigated to see if there was any evidence of the original scheme. The original horsehair pads were still attached to the inside back and to the arms. The back pad retained evidence of the original buttoning pattern which was used as a guide for the new buttoning. Although the seat pad, which was never buttoned, had been removed and reattached to the frame, it retained the distinctive curved and stitched edge along the front. Fibres of the original purple silk cover was found on the arm pads and a purple silk damask of appropriate design and date was chosen for the new top cover.

Historical context note

Although Belter's use of laminated wood was unusual, his methods for applying and carving solid wood, and for supporting the back, were typical of heavily ornamented furniture of the period. It is likely, however, that Belter was one of the first - possibly the first - to produce elaborate carvings largely from laminated wood. Between 1847 and 1860 he took out four patents covering machinery and processes for making his furniture.

Belter's use of plywood must have been motivated by a desire to simplify the difficult process of making such large pieces of furniture from solid wood, to save money on the use of expensive rosewood and to manufacture stronger and lighter furniture than was possible with solid wood at this time. It is unlikely, however, that he could ever have envisaged using the technique to make inexpensive furniture in this style. This ornate sofa, for example, must still have been very expensive and would only have been affordable to the upper end of the market.

While some competitors made furniture which bore a closer resemblance to 18th-century French Rococo models, Belter's approach was freer. His was a less antiquarian, more inventive, revivalism. He drew not only on contemporary French furniture but also on furniture from his native Germany. Designs for either were regularly published in specialist magazines.

Descriptive line

Sofa, laminated and solid rosewood; New York, ca. 1856. Designed by John Henry Belter and manufactured by J.H. Belter and Company.

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

Wilk C. (ed.), Western Furniture 1350 to the Present Day . London: Philip Wilson Publishers Ltd, 1996, pp. 156-157, ill.

Labels and date

SOFA

W.22-1983

'American and European Art and Design 1800-1900'

Belter, born Johann Heinrich Belter in Hanover, Germany, arrived in New York in 1833, where he worked as a cabinet-maker from at least 1844. He took out several patents including three of 1856, 1858 and 1860 concerning laminated construction, of which he was a major pioneer. His works were imitated by several other firms in New York. This is the most elaborate example of his work so far discovered. [1987-2006]
Sofa
About 1856
Designed by John Henry Belter (1804–63)

USA
Manufactured by J.H. Belter & Co., New York City

Rosewood, solid and laminated, carved
Strengthening blocks: varnished chestnut or oak
Upholstery (replacement): silk damask

Museum no. W.22-1983

John Henry Belter is remarkable for his technical innovation, in making furniture using laminated rather than solid wood. Born in Germany, he emigrated to the United States and eventually took out four patents relating to machinery and furniture making.

The back of this ornate Rococo Revival sofa is made from seven large sheets of veneer, glued together to make a laminated board. This construction would have been expensive, but lighter and stronger than an assemblage of carved wood. [01/12/2012]

Production Note

Attribution note: The very tall cresting of the sofa was not made from solid pieces of carved wood (in the traditional manner) but from seven large sheets of veneer which were glued together to form a curving plywood back, approximately 2 cms thick. The cresting stops just below the upholstery line; below this the back is composed of solid upright upholstered at the front and backed with fabric. The carved ornament of the cresting was, in part, cut (or 'pierced') through the plywood back; in addition, the solid wood blocks were applied directly onto this and additional flowers, acanthus leaves, grapes and scrolls carved from the blocks to complete the design. The seat rail, on which the back rests, and the feet which extend from it, are all carved from solid wood.

Materials

Oak; Rosewood; Silk damask; Chestnut

Techniques

Carving; Varnishing; Upholstering; Laminating; Buttoning

Subjects depicted

Flowers

Categories

Furniture

Collection code

FWK

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Qr_O59258
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