Monday, January 7, 2013

Unusual Artifacts: A Straw Marquetry Bellows, 1770

Bellows, c. 1770
French in the Chinoiserie Style
Straw marquetry on a wooden frame.
The Victoria & Albert Museum

A bellows such as this would have been used to maintain a fire by puffing air into it in order to add oxygen, encouraging it to burn more fiercely.

This bellows was made in 1770 as part of a suite of decorative, but useful items, designed for use in a fashionable “Chinese”-style interior.  The scene, in the popular Chinoiserie style, depicts two men in loose robes and long moustaches holding a parasol and a cymbal. 

This is a work of straw marquetry—a technique which developed  in France between circa 1760 and 1830. The technique was achieved with straw which was split and flattened, then glued into place on thin paper on which the design had been drawn. This paper was then glued to a wooden carcass, which was usually covered first with a thicker paper. Color would be added to the surface, and then varnished to achieve the glossy appearance of marquetry.

Straw marquetry was most often used for small objects like this bellows, but sometimes, larger pieces of furniture were decorated in this way.  However, because the straw work is very fragile, it is very rare for pieces to survive in good condition.

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