Saturday, February 8, 2014

Her Majesty's Furniture: The Sir Robert Walpole State Bed, 1732

Sir Robert Walpole's State Bed
Designed by William Kent
Located at Houghton Hall, Norfolk

This theatrically-monumental bed was designed by William Kent, the man who was responsible for the complete decoration of the interior of Sir Robert Walpole's new house at Houghton Hall, Norfolk, between about 1725 and 1732. Sir Robert Walpole was the leader of the British government from 1721 to 1742, and is known as Britain's first prime minister.

Though the bed was bequeathed to the V&A long ago, it remains on loan at its original location at Houghton, where visitors may see it in the “Green Velvet Bedchamber”—the room for which it was designed.  Kent delivered the bed between 1731–1732 at an exceptional expense.  The bill for the trimmings, or passementerie, shows us that the London partnership of Walter Turner, Richard Hill and Robert Pitter were paid over £1200 for the braids, rosettes and fringes of silver-gilt thread – an astronomical amount of money in 1732.

The bed takes an architectural form with its four posters.  It is upholstered in green silk velvet which is trimmed with braid, fringe, and embroidery in gilt-metal thread.  The dramatic headboard is defined by an architectural plinth surmounted by a large shell.

Overall, the bed is hung with six curtains of velvet and has a fitted counterpane in velvet, all identically trimmed with passementerie.

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