Monday, January 27, 2014

The Home Beautiful: The Elephant Hall Chair, c. 1725

Hall Chair
c. 1725
Altered after 1762
This and all related images from
The Victoria & Albert Museum

A hall chair such as this one was made to give a waiting servant a place to sit without being too comfortable. They generally were arranged in the front hallway of a large townhouse or country estate. A footman would often spend hours waiting in the hall for his master to return home or even just to have a door opened. Still, even though such chairs were meant to be utilitarian and rigid, they were also expected to be stylish and handsome. Often, these chairs would display the arms of the owner of the home. 

This example, from about 1725, reflects the initial interest in chinoiserie. The lacquered backboard and seat-board were commissioned by a British furniture maker from a Chinese maker. The pattern for the coat of arms was surely sent out with the order. The individual pieces were shipped back to England where they were set into the carcass of the chair which had already been japanned in imitation of the Asian lacquer.

This chair reflects the complex patterns of trade and stylistic influence between Europe and East Asia in the 18th century. The lacquered back-board and seat-board were commissioned in Britain from China, and a pattern for the lacquered coat of arms must have been sent out with the order. The two boards could be packed flat to take up minimal space in the ship on its return voyage. On arrival they were assembled with the seat rails and legs, which were made in Britain and 'japanned' here in imitation of lacquer. Hall chairs of this type were fashionable in Britain in the 1720s-30s, and a number of similar examples survive. 

The original owner of this chair is unknown, as the original coat of arms has been altered. The existing armorial shield and elephant crest is painted in oils over the original lacquered arms. The existing crest is for Sir Herbert Pakington, Baronet, and his wife Elizabeth Hawkins. According to the V&A, “These arms must have been painted after Sir Herbert succeeded to the title in 1762 – a generation after the chairs were made.”

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