State Bed thumbnail 1
State Bed thumbnail 2
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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
Not currently on display at the V&A
On display at Houghton Hall, Norfolk

State Bed

ca. 1726 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This impressive embroidered bed remains on loan to the house for which it was made, Houghton Hall in Norfolk. Visitors may see it there in the Embroidered Bedchamber. The headboard of the bed is decorated with the arms of Sir Robert Walpole, Britain's first prime minister (1721–1742), who built his palatial new house at Houghton between 1722 and 1731. In 1726 Walpole was the first commoner to be appointed as a knight of the Order of the Garter, the highest British civil and military honour obtainable. His pride in his new status was immediately recorded in his house, and the Walpole arms on the bed are surrounded by the garter of the order, not only on the headboard but also on the two shield-shaped cartouches on the tester above the foot-posts.

As was usual at that time, the splendour of the bed derives entirely from its upholstery: the frame is plainly made in oak, merely as a support to the hangings. The embroidery is fine wool on a ground of quilted linen. The edges of many panels are outlined with silk braid, and the valance of the tester is edged with a complex decorative fringe.

On loan to Houghton Hall.


object details
Category
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Tester, cartouches and headboard of quilted and embroidered linen on wooden frame; bedspread, valances and curtains of quilted and embroidered linen; oak bedstock
Brief Description
State bed with the coat of arms of Sir Robert Walpole, hangings of quilted and embroidered linen, Britain, ca. 1726
Physical Description
Four-poster bed, the shaped tester bearing cartouches with the arms of Sir Robert Walpole at the corners, turned posts, and arched headboard embroidered with the coat of arms of Sir Robert Walpole; curtains, upper and lower valances, and bedspread.
Credit line
Accepted in lieu of tax by HM Government and allocated to the Victoria and Albert Museum
Object history
Made for Sir Robert Walpole of Houghton Hall by an unknown London upholsterer. The embroidery of the headboard shows Walpole's arms surrounded by the garter of the Order of the Garter, to which he was appointed in 1726, and these arms are repeated on the cartouches at both foot corners of the tester.



On permanent loan to Houghton Hall, Norfolk



The bed shows alteration in the embroidery (especially on the back edges of the upper and lower valances), and it is possible that the design was conceived for the earlier house and held over once building work on the new house started in 1722, and only completed for the house in 1732. Although by that time Sir Robert and Lady Walpole were living, by agreement, apart, it appears to reflect the first Lady Walpole's interests in Asian arts. Catherine Shorter (1682-1737) married Robert Walpole in 1700 but they separated in the second decade of the century, and there is speculation that Lady Walpole's last child Horace (born 1717) was the child of her then lover, Lord Hervey, although Horace appears either to have been unaware of this or to have ignored the fact. Catherine was the daughter of John Shorter of Bybrook, Kent, a Baltic timber merchant who was the son of Sir John Shorter, Lord Mayor of London in 1687-8. When she married she brought with her a dowry of £20,000, but she was extravagantly fashionable and was said to have 'wasted large sums'. She was said to be a competent 'japanner', decorating items in the manner of Asian lacquer, and certainly there are Asian lacquer pieces custom made with the arms of the Walpole's in the collections at Houghton Hall.
Summary
This impressive embroidered bed remains on loan to the house for which it was made, Houghton Hall in Norfolk. Visitors may see it there in the Embroidered Bedchamber. The headboard of the bed is decorated with the arms of Sir Robert Walpole, Britain's first prime minister (1721–1742), who built his palatial new house at Houghton between 1722 and 1731. In 1726 Walpole was the first commoner to be appointed as a knight of the Order of the Garter, the highest British civil and military honour obtainable. His pride in his new status was immediately recorded in his house, and the Walpole arms on the bed are surrounded by the garter of the order, not only on the headboard but also on the two shield-shaped cartouches on the tester above the foot-posts.



As was usual at that time, the splendour of the bed derives entirely from its upholstery: the frame is plainly made in oak, merely as a support to the hangings. The embroidery is fine wool on a ground of quilted linen. The edges of many panels are outlined with silk braid, and the valance of the tester is edged with a complex decorative fringe.



On loan to Houghton Hall.
Bibliographic Reference
Westman, Annabel, Fringe, Frog and Tassel. The Art of the Trimmings-Maker in Interior Decoration in Britain and Ireland (London: Philip Wilson/The National Trust, 2019, ISBN 978 1 78130 075 6), pp. 101-103.
Collection
Accession Number
W.57-2002

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record createdApril 30, 2003
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