Not currently on display at the V&A

Armchair

c.1883-1900 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

The first version of this armchair was designed in the 1860s by the architect Philip Webb for the firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., later Morris & Co. The idea of a chair back, which could be adjusted to different angles by altering the position of a horizontal rod, was taken from a traditional, vernacular example. Webb adapted this design for his armchair which remained in the firm's stock after it became Morris & Co. in 1875. The cushions are covered in 'Violet and Colombine', a wool and mohair fabric designed by William Morris in 1883 and exhibited for the first time that year on the Morris & Co. stand at the Foreign Fair in Boston, U.S.A.

The original owner of this armchair was William Kenrick (1831-1919), a Birmingham industrialist and a collector of pottery and porcelain. He commissioned a new house, The Grove, Harborne, which was built in 1877-8. One small panelled room from it survives in the Museum's collections (Museum no.W.4-1962). Kenrick may have ordered this comfortable armchair in the 1880s for either his smoking room or his library.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
oak, turned, with brass castors and fittings; upholstery covers of wool and mohair
Brief Description
oak, turned, with adjustable back and upholstery covers of 'Violet and Columbine' wool and mohair; fabric designed by William Morris and armchair designed by Philip Webb, made for Morris & Co., British, c.1883-1900; from the Grove, Harborne
Physical Description
The armchair has a rectangular back and seat, with curved arms and side rails, upholstered arm pads, and rectangular cushions on the seat and back.. The rectangular back is formed of six square section rails between uprights topped with acorn-like finials. The bottom rail of the back is hinged to the underside of the back seat rail. The sides are formed of curving square section arm rails with an upholstered pad on the top, concave square section arm supports, and straight front legs with bobbin carving and brass capped castors on the feet. The straight front seat rail is also square section with bobbin carving and the square section side rails curve down from the front legs to form the back feet, with castors screwed into the timber. Between the arms and the side rails are four bobbin turned uprights on each side. The arm rails extend beyond the back and are joined by a brass rod with finial through one of five holes in both rails to a brass plate screwed to the outer face of each rail. Bobbin turned stretchers run between the front legs and from the front legs to the back legs. Under the seat cushion black bottoming is tacked to the rebate around the seat and below this is hessian and brown and white webbing.
Dimensions
  • Height: 95.5cm
  • Across arms width: 67cm
  • Depth: 77cm
Style
Production typeMass produced
Credit line
Given by William Kenrick
Object history
200This armchair was originally part of the furnishing of The Grove, Harborne, the home of William Kenrick, M.P., industrialist, and collector. Although the design for an armchair with an adjustable back and bobbin-turned frame was introduced by Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. in the late 1860s, the woven wool and mohair upholstery fabric, 'Violet and Columbine', designed by William Morris, was shown for the first time on the Morris & Co. stand at the Boston Foreign Fair in 1883. If the cushions are covered in their original upholstery fabric, the chair was presumably supplied some time in the 1880s, several years after J.H. Chamberlain rebuilt the house for Kenrick in 1877-8.



It is also not clear for which room the armchair was originally supplied. The 1911 Inventory of The Grove (Birmingham City Archives, MS 400/93; two copies in Buildings file, Department of Furniture, Textiles and Fashion) lists in the Smoking Room, on the first floor, a 'Moveable reclining rail pattern chair with cushions; covered green tapestry', valued at £9 10s. A photograph of the Library, on the ground floor, c. 1930, shows part of the arm and front leg of the armchair beside the fireplace (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Neg. No. S.6889)



In 1962, when the Museum was offered the opportunity to acquire furniture from The Grove by the Kenrick family, and by Birmingham City Council, to whom the house had been bequeathed, the armchair was in the 'oriel room'. This may be another name for the Ante-Room, now on display in the British Galleries in the Museum. There is no 'oriel room' listed in the 1911 Inventory, or shown on the architect's plans of the house (Birmingham City Archives HBP 1877A)



Formerly on loan to Tamworth Castle Museum (1983-2009).
Historical context
Philip Webb based his design for this armchair on a vernacular version of a late Georgian armchair seen in 1866 by Warrington Taylor, business manager of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., in the workshop of Ephraim Colman, a carpenter in Herstmonceaux, Sussex. Believing the firm needed new ideas for furniture, Taylor sent a sketch of the chair in a letter to Webb (Victoria and Albert Museum, National Art Library 86.SS.57). Used in the Kelmscott House drawing room by William and Jane Morris, and in the home of Edward Burne-Jones, this popular design was also available in mahogany. It was still available in the firm's catalogue c. 1912 and the design was widely copied by British and American firms, including Liberty and Gustave Stickley.
Production
Although the design for an adjustable-back chair was introduced by Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co in the 1860s, and remained in the furniture range of Morris & Co., the upholstery fabric, Violet and Columbine, was not designed until 1883 when it was shown at the Boston Foreign Fair.
Summary
The first version of this armchair was designed in the 1860s by the architect Philip Webb for the firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., later Morris & Co. The idea of a chair back, which could be adjusted to different angles by altering the position of a horizontal rod, was taken from a traditional, vernacular example. Webb adapted this design for his armchair which remained in the firm's stock after it became Morris & Co. in 1875. The cushions are covered in 'Violet and Colombine', a wool and mohair fabric designed by William Morris in 1883 and exhibited for the first time that year on the Morris & Co. stand at the Foreign Fair in Boston, U.S.A.



The original owner of this armchair was William Kenrick (1831-1919), a Birmingham industrialist and a collector of pottery and porcelain. He commissioned a new house, The Grove, Harborne, which was built in 1877-8. One small panelled room from it survives in the Museum's collections (Museum no.W.4-1962). Kenrick may have ordered this comfortable armchair in the 1880s for either his smoking room or his library.
Bibliographic Reference
Elizabeth Aslin, Nineteenth Century English Furniture (London, Faber, 1962), plate 65.
Collection
Accession Number
CIRC.642:1-3-1962

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record createdJune 24, 2009
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