Armchair thumbnail 1
Armchair thumbnail 2
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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
British Galleries, Room 58, Bromley-by-Bow Room

Armchair

1560-1580 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Simple, strong chairs such as this were produced in large numbers in the 17th century. A house would contain only one or two of these chairs; other household members would sit on benches or stools. The unusual shape of this example, with a narrow back and trapezoid seat, originally derived from French seats. The chair is of joined (mortise and tenon) construction. A cushion would have been added for comfort.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Oak, joined, with carved decoration
Brief Description
Oak armchair with panelled back, open arms and splayed seat.
Physical Description
Armchair with a panelled back and splayed seat, the side uprights raked above the seat and terminating in small 10-sided geometrical finials. The back top rail with a peak with a tulip-shape cut-out, and incised along the frieze with a M pattern. The back panel itself with a diamond shape within a frame, created with sections of two complex mouldings glued to the panel. At the bottom this is out of true as a result of irregular shrinkage of the panel. The flat arms curve outward and terminate in a rounded pad. Rectangular section front uprights; the rails and stretchers (front and sides) of rectangular form, cut with a moulding. A distinctive feature of the chair is the number of mouldings worked in the solid on the framing elements (as well as forming the design on the back panel). Many of these incorporate an ogee.



Construction

Joined, with glued mouldings on the back panel. The arm handles morticed onto thefront legs, and where they join the back uprights, cut in a V or bird's mouth, and square pegged into the outer face of the back uprights. The seat consists of two boards, grained laterally, pegged down to the seat rails.



Various setting out marks are visible.



Modifications

Modern corner blocks reinforcing underside of seat (fixed using modern screws). Joint between right arm and back upright has been repaired (dowel with paste filler) where the arm has lost half its 'beak'. Right arm has old worm damage. Common furniture beetle exit holes at sappy edges of right rail and back panel. Wear on front stretcher. Front right leg split at top.

Heavy stain overall.
Dimensions
  • Height: 129.5cm
  • At front width: 68.5cm
  • At back width: 44cm
  • Depth: 53.3cm
  • Of seat height: 52cm
Gallery Label
ARM-CHAIR ENGLISH; last half of the 16th century Carved oak with applied mouldings forming a lozenge on the back.(pre October 2000)
Object history
Bought from Richard Grose (a dealer and valuer), 8 Exhibition Road, London SW7 for £25 (RF 1948/3082 - no further information on RF)

On loan to Woolsthorpe Manor, Lincolnshire from to 2002-2015.
Historical context
The open-framed armchair was a new type that developed in England during the middle of the 16th-century, and that became standard and widespread in the 17th. Until the mid-17th century a well-to-do household would usually have a single armchair, reserved, as a mark of prestige, for the use of the head of the household or an important guest. Everyone else would sit on benches, stools or cushions, or simpler chairs.



This chair is made entirely of oak, a strong, hard-wearing wood native to Britain. The chair frame is constructed with strong mortise and tenon joints fastened by wooden pegs. The back panel is retained in grooves in the frame elements, so that it will not split as the wood naturally contracts and expands - a technique known as 'frame and panel'.



On this chair, the high back with its 8-sided carved finials (found in England from about 1530) and delicately ornamented top rail would have emphasised the status of its user. A sign of quality is the use of elegant mouldings cut into the chair frame, even on the back, complementing the rhombus design on the back made using applied mouldings. The broad, curving arms that enclose the sitter are a feature found on smart French armchairs from the first half of the 16th-century.



Comparable chairs

At Sizergh Castle, Cumbria, are three oak panel backed chairs with turned front legs dated 1570 and 1571, with lozenge panels matching those in the Old Dining Room; a fourth with an inset rectangular moulding similar to the present Dining Room panelling.



Box armchair with similar finials, at Haddon Hall, Derbyshire
Summary
Simple, strong chairs such as this were produced in large numbers in the 17th century. A house would contain only one or two of these chairs; other household members would sit on benches or stools. The unusual shape of this example, with a narrow back and trapezoid seat, originally derived from French seats. The chair is of joined (mortise and tenon) construction. A cushion would have been added for comfort.
Bibliographic References
  • WINDISCH-GRAETZ, Franz: Möbel Europa. 2. Renaissance-Manierismus (Munich, 1982), p.324 (fig.237)
  • Christopher Pickvance, 'Towards a History of the Origin and Diffusion of a Late Renaissance Chair Desight: The Caquetoire or Caqueteuse Chair in France, Scotland and England', in Furniture History, vol. LV, pp, 1-26, this chair discussed pp. 12-13, and illustrated as fig. 11.
Collection
Accession Number
W.54-1948

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record createdFebruary 15, 2001
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