Armchair

1790 (made)
Armchair thumbnail 1
Armchair thumbnail 2
+8
images
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
British Galleries, Room 118; The Wolfson Gallery
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Object Type
This is a light and decorative chair, intended for use in a drawing room. It is one of a large set. Furniture painted with flowers and feathers was highly fashionable when the chair was made in 1790. In the 1790s painting was also used on tables and commodes (chests of drawers) as an alternative to marquetry (coloured wood veneers).

Ownership & Use
We know from the original bill, which was kept by the Tupper family, that the chair was made for their house in Guernsey. The bill also tells us that each chair had a canvas cushion on the cane seat, with a cover of chintz, or Indian printed cotton, with white braid and green fringe. The set also included a settee, three 'French stools' or window seats, and two fire screens, all painted and with covers to match.

Design & Designing
The firm of Seddon was the largest furniture-making business in London at the end of the 18th century. It made furniture in many fashionable styles. In this case the chair-back is in the shape of a shield, a form popularised by the furniture designs of George Hepplewhite published in his The Cabinet-maker and Upholsterer's Guide of 1788.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Parts
This object consists of 3 parts.

  • Armchair
  • Cushion
  • Cushion
Materials and Techniques
Painted satinwood, with caned seat
Brief Description
Armchair of painted satinwood, the back of shield shape, the seat caned, the front surfaces of the back, seat, arms and legs painted in polychrome with flowers and peacock feathers.
Physical Description
Satinwood armchair with shield-shaped open back and caned seat, the back, arms, seat-rails and front legs with polychrome decoration of flowers and peacock feathers, the edges of each element lined out in blue and white. The front legs are tapering, square-sectioned, with collars just above foot level, the back legs are raked, tapering and square-sectioned. The seat rails of the D-shaped seat are serpentine on their lower edges and the front rail is gently curved in plan. The shield-shaped back shows three curving splats, the central one pierced and painted with a vase of flowers. The short arms are supported on long, concave supports that rise from above the front legs. The armchair is fitted with a loose squab cushion (modern).



The holes for the caning are spaced at intervals of 3/4 of an inch. The inside of the seat rail is cut with a semi-circular groove for the seating of the caning. Two holes that show evidence of a screw thread are sited on the underside of the side rails, about one third of the way back. It is possible that these were used for screws to fix the chairs firmly within the crates when they were sent to Guernsey.
Dimensions
  • Height: 93cm
Style
Marks and Inscriptions
W.P. (Stamped under back seat rail)
Gallery Label
  • TWO FROM A SET OF THREE ARMCHAIRS ENGLISH; about 1790 Painted satinwood Attibuted to Seddon, Sons & Shackleton. En suite with W.29-1968. Given by Mrs. A.E. Ingham.(pre October 2000)
  • Made by seddon, Sons, and Shackleton for Daniel Tupper, of Hauteville House, Guernsey Satinwood veneer with painted decoration; cane seat and replacement squab cusion; from a set of eighteen. A later copy of these chairs can be seen in the British 19th-century gallery.(1996)
  • This chair is part of a set of eighteen chairs supplied by Seddon, Sons and Shackleton to D. upper of Hauteville House, Guernsey, in about 1790. The original bill, headed 'George Seddon & Sons, J. Shackleton', reads 18 Satinwood Elbow Chairs round fronts and hollow can'd seats neatly Japanned - ornamented with roses in back and peacock feather border @ 73/6 ea. £66.3.0. All the chairs are stamped under the back seat-rail, two with the letters 'W.R.' and two with 'I.P.' A pair of chairs that was in the Swaythling Collection in 1965 is similarly stamped 'I.P.'(pre 1990)
  • British Galleries: Chairs with backs in the shape of a pointed shield were first introduced in the 1770s and became a standard Neo-classical type. They were popularised in the 1780s by the publications of the furniture designs of George Hepplewhite. In 1788 Hepplewhite described the painted decoration on such chairs as 'a new and very elegant fashion ... which gives a rich and splendid appearance to the minutest parts of the Ornaments'.(27/03/2003)
Credit line
Given by Mrs A. E. Ingham
Object history
W.1-1968 to W.3-1968 are from the same set, originally of18 chairs, supplied by Seddon, Sons & Shackleton, to D. Tupper of Hauteville House, Guernsey, in about 1790. The original bill is dated by the year only, headed 'George Seddon & Sons' with the addition of '& Shackleton' in ink (Shackleton, who had married George Seddon's daughter only went in to partnership with him in June 1790 and presumably the firm was initially using up earlier stationery). The bill reads records, in addition to mahogany furniture for the dining room a set of seat furniture for the drawing room: '18 Satinwood Elbow Chairs round fronts & hollow can'd seats neatly Japanned - ornamented with roses in back and peacock feather border @ 73/6 ea. £66.3.0.' The chairs were provided with loose cushions upholstered in chintz and the set included a '5 back Settee' and '3 French Stools' (window seats), plus two fire-screens, girandoles etc.. The total cost of Mr Tupper's purchases was £414. 11s. 4d. and this commission is the earliest documented commission to Seddon's. Photographs of the bills are held in the Furniture, Textiles and Fashion Department at the V&A.



The furniture remained in the ownership of the Tupper family until it was sold from the collection of the late Miss Tupper in 1928. At least parts of the sets of seat furniture were acquired by the dealer Moss Harris of Oxford Street (see refs.)but it is not clear whether pieces of the set had been sold from the house earlier. Hauteville House was let or sold out of the family quite early in the 19th century and is famous as the home of Victor Hugo, from 1855 to 1870, when he was exiled from France. At that time, the interior of the house was much altered and it seem likely that the chairs had long since gone to another family house.



The Tupper family had made money in Guernsey in the eighteenth century as privateers, who equipped their own ships to fight off enemies to Britain, keeping the proceeds of anything that they captured.



In 1911 a five-chair-back settee from a closely similar set was illustrated in H. Cescinsky, English Furniture of the Eighteenth Century. This illustration was re-printed in the article on Seddon's by Christopher Gilbert and Lucy wood (1997), Figure 18, p. 28 (see refs). Although the design of the backs are close to the V&A chairs, the front legs of the settee are turned, indicating that it cannot have been the settee that was made to go with the chairs but came from a slightly variant version of the model. A window seat that may have been from this set was sold at Christie's (illustrated in Apollo, December 1960, p. 225, figs. a & b). In 1965 a pair of chairs from this set was in the Swaythling Collection, stamped (I.P.) On 20 November 1970 a pair of the chairs were sold at Sotheby's, lot 191. The seat rail of one of these was stamped 'I.P.', that of the other stamped 'W.R.' Lot 190 was a matching semi-circular card table, which was inscribed underneath 'Tupper'. A pair of closely related armchairs were sold at Christie's New York, 7 April 2006, lot 208. Another pair, one stamped 'I.P.' were sold by Neal Auction Co., New Orleans, 14/15 Septeber 2013, lot 60.



The double letters stamped on the chairs were almost certainly the initials of the workmen who actually made the chairs. Such marking was common in the late 17th and 18th centuries but unfortunately it is exceedingly rare to be able to identify these individual makers. The decoration of the chairs would have been in the hands of a different group of workers and these were often women. It has been noted that the the decoration on the three chairs in the V&A collection show differences in quality, probably suggesting that they were decorated by different painters.



The Museum also owns a further chair (W.59-1936) which is of an almost identical model, but with differences of dimensions that suggest that it was not part of the same set, although probably made in the same workshop as part of a different set of the same model.



The firm of George Seddon, which later traded as Seddon & Sons, then Seddon, Sons & Shackleton, was one of the largest firms in London, and active from 1753 to 1868. Although few bills from the firm survive, a detailed description of the workshops in 1786 by the German traveller Sophie von la Roche was published in 1791 and was reprinted in both German and English in Furniture History, vol. XXXIII (1997), pp. 30-34. Edited by Christopher Gilbert and Lucy Wood ('Sophie von la Roche at Seddon's'). That account describes the very extensive workshops and the large numbers of workmen and women employed by the firm, which could supply most of what a client could want.



In 1887 the Museum had acquired two painted armchairs made by the London firm of Wright and Mansfield, which was a leader in the reproduction of 18th-century styles in English furniture. The proportions of that chair are notably different from these three but it is certainly derived from this model and is an early instance of 19th century reproductions of English 18th-century furniture.







Subjects depicted
Summary
Object Type
This is a light and decorative chair, intended for use in a drawing room. It is one of a large set. Furniture painted with flowers and feathers was highly fashionable when the chair was made in 1790. In the 1790s painting was also used on tables and commodes (chests of drawers) as an alternative to marquetry (coloured wood veneers).

Ownership & Use
We know from the original bill, which was kept by the Tupper family, that the chair was made for their house in Guernsey. The bill also tells us that each chair had a canvas cushion on the cane seat, with a cover of chintz, or Indian printed cotton, with white braid and green fringe. The set also included a settee, three 'French stools' or window seats, and two fire screens, all painted and with covers to match.

Design & Designing
The firm of Seddon was the largest furniture-making business in London at the end of the 18th century. It made furniture in many fashionable styles. In this case the chair-back is in the shape of a shield, a form popularised by the furniture designs of George Hepplewhite published in his The Cabinet-maker and Upholsterer's Guide of 1788.
Associated Objects
Bibliographic References
  • Strange, Edward F. 'Seddon Furniture', Old Furniture, 5 (October 1928), pp. 118-120.
  • Harris, M. & Sons, Old English Furniture. Its Designers and Craftsmen (privately printed, 1935), pp. 62-64, the dining room suite treated on pp. 60-61.
  • Gilbert, Christopher, 'Seddon, Sons & Shackleton', Furniture History, vol. XXIII (1997), pp. 1-29. W.1-1968 is illustrated as Figure 4 and one of the 'French stools' is illustrated from Harris's 1935 publication (Figure 2). The semi-circular table sold by Sotheby's in 1970 is illustrated as Figure 3.
  • Tomlin, Maurice, Catalogue of Adam Period Furniture (London, HMSO for the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1972), cat. no. P/7, p. 129. W.1-1968 is illustrated but the whole set is discussed.
Collection
Accession Number
W.2:1 to 3-1968

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record createdJanuary 24, 2001
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