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Windsor armchair - Oliver Goldsmith's chair

Oliver Goldsmith's chair

  • Object:

    Windsor armchair

  • Place of origin:

    Thames Valley (The form of the top rail, with circular ends, and the use of a lap-joint to join the centre of the arm bow (rather than creating this piece by steam bending wood) is indicative of production in the Thames Valley., made)

  • Date:

    1760-1765 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Seat, arms and back rail probably elm, top rail possibly elm, legs, uprights and stretchers beech.

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Lady Hawes

  • Museum number:

    538-1872

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Windsor chairs of this type are sometimes described as 'Goldsmith' chairs, from Oliver Goldsmith (1730-1774), the celebrated writer of 'The Vicar of Wakefield', who once owned this example. It was given to the Museum in 1872 in view of its associations with Goldsmith, along with his writing box and walking cane. A Windsor chair is characterised by its construction; the seat is of solid wood, with legs and arm-supports dowelled into it. The name probably derives from the town of Windsor in Berkshire, which is situated on the river Thames and was ideally located as a distribution point for chairs made in the Thames Valley region, where many chairs of this type were made.

Physical description

Windsor armchair of beech and elm, painted.
The back is of comb form, with two diagonal stays behind, locating in a small, rectangular extension to the circular seat, which is saddle-shaped on its front edge, and reaching to the top rail, which is curved in plan and also shows a shallow curve on the top edge, with circular form at either side. The arm bow, with scrolling ends, is made in two sections, cut to shape and joined by a half-lap joint. It is supported at either end on backward curving uprights, or tapering form The uprights, formed with a spoke-shave, run through the arm bow. The legs are heavily splayed and all four show the same decorative turnings. They are joined by three stretchers set in H-form, each swelling in the centre.
Underneath the top layer of black paint, green paint is visible.

The circular 'ears' at either end of the top rail, and the joint in the centre of the arm bow, are both indicative of manufacture in the Thames Valley.

Place of Origin

Thames Valley (The form of the top rail, with circular ends, and the use of a lap-joint to join the centre of the arm bow (rather than creating this piece by steam bending wood) is indicative of production in the Thames Valley., made)

Date

1760-1765 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Seat, arms and back rail probably elm, top rail possibly elm, legs, uprights and stretchers beech.

Dimensions

Height: 97 cm, Width: 63.3 cm, Depth: 57.5 cm

Object history note

The chair belonged to the author Oliver Goldsmith. He bequeathed it on his death in 1774 to his friend Dr William Hawes, founder of the Humane Society. It was given to the V&A in 1872 by Lady Hawes, widow of Sir Benjamin Hawes, a descendant of Dr Hawes, together with his writing box, museum number 542-1872, and his walking cane. Consequently Windsor chairs of this type are sometimes known as Goldsmith chairs.

Oliver Goldsmith (1730–1774), the Anglo-Irish writer, poet and physician best known for his novel The Vicar of Wakefield (1766), and his play She Stoops to Conquer (first performed in 1773).

Historical context note

Underneath the top layer of black paint, green paint is visible. It is possible that this was used by Goldsmith in his London garden, as such chairs for garden use were frequently painted green.

Descriptive line

'Goldsmith chair'. Windsor armchair with comb-back, painted beech and elm, England, 1760-65

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

Elizabeth White, ''Polished Perches: The Evidence for English Painted Wooden Furniture in Eighteenth-Century Gardens', in Painted Wood: History and Conservation. Proceedings of a Symposium organized by the Wooden Artifacts Group of the American Institute for Cosnervation of Historic and Artistic Works, Williamsburg, Virginia, November 1994, published by The Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles, 1998, pp. 128-142, this chair referred to on p. 131 and ibn note 10.
Michael Harding-Hill, Windsor Chairs, an Illustrated Celebration. Woodbridge: Antique Collectors Club, 2003,p. 20
Parrott, Robert and Boram, John, 'Three Eighteenth-Century Windsor Chairs Possibly Made in Bristol', Regional Furniture, XXVIII, 2014, pp. 97-105. The V&A chair is discussed on p. 101, but is not illustrated
The Windsor Chair Exhibition at West Wycombe Park, 2012, no. 33. Text of catalogue by Michael Harding-Hill and Robert Parrott.
Karlsen, Arne, Danish Furniture Design in the 20th Century. Copenhagen: Dansk moebel kunst. Christian Ejler's forlag, 2007, vol. II, p. 42, illustrated.
Haworth-Booth, Mark, 'The Dating of 18th Century Windsor Chairs', Antique Dealers' and Collectors' Guide, January 1973, pp. 63-69, illus. p. 63.
Jervis, Simon, 'The first century of the English Windsor chair, 1720-1820', Antiques Magazine, February 1979, pp. 360-366, illustrated as fig. 3.
Illustrated p.28
The Windsor Chair: An illustrated history of a classic English chair
p.87 & 97 illustrated p.89
The English Country Chair: An illustrated history of chairs and chairmaking
Haworth-Booth, Mark. The Rural Chair: A travelling exhibition arranged by the Circulation Department of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Circulation Department, Victoria and Albert Museum, St Clements Fosh & Cross Ltd. (printer), H.M.S.O., London, 1973

Materials

Elm; Beech

Techniques

Turning; Shaving (spoke-shaver)

Categories

Furniture; Woodwork

Collection

Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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