Sheraton Painted Armchair
Victoria & Albert Museum
When I first started working with antiques in NY in the 1970’s, there were few books on the shelves about furniture other than American. Those that were available usually focused on wood finishing, or basic restoration, nothing on painted furniture. Eventually, as I began to haunt used book shops, I found older out-of-print books, many published in England, with black and white photos, very little in color. I soon noticed that the authors used the same photos repeatedly, usually from the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Metropolitan Museum in NY, or selections from old English collections. By the 1980’s this began to change; the numerous colorful books by Jocasta Innes were full of information about painting, “The Best of Painted Furniture” by Florence de Dampierre was a milestone, full of color photos of all kinds of antique furniture. In the ensuing years, the publishing pace increased, many good books appeared, and ultimately, with the internet endless information became available.
One thing that did not change, however, was the photo of the chair shown above. It appeared in many books, always in black and white. I was determined to replicate it for myself, and eventually, in the early 1990’s, working from photos, I drew the plans and elevations as accurately as I could, and asked one of the woodworkers with whom I was associated to build it for me. As I proceeded with the decorative painting, I went by “educated” guesses in interpreting what colors were most likely used on the original. For the most part, I relied on the information gained by studying the pair of shield back armchairs that were at that time on display in the English rooms at the Met.
Basically, I was OK with the results, as much as could be expected, and even produced a set of four armchairs for a client based upon my model. Then in 1996, I had an opportunity to go to England for a few weeks. Landing in London, I hastened to the museums, first stop being the V & A.
As I entered the English furniture rooms, looked around and saw the chair, my first glance showed, to my chagrin, that I had guessed wrong on one crucial area. Working with the typical palette of red/pink (terracotta) and green (in the celadon range) with small amounts of white/gray and pale yellow, I had everything reasonably correct, except that I had reversed the colors of the urn and drapery swags on the splat. My chair had a green urn with pink swags; as my grainy photo above shows, the original chair had a pink urn with green swags.
Upon my return, there was no way around it, I felt compelled to fix my mistake. I repainted the urn and swags on my own chair, and of course, it looked so much better.
As a foot note to this story, I will add the following.
At the time I replicated this chair, I actually had two frames made; one of them I painted black and floral as described above, the other was treated in a satinwood (polished maple) and floral finish. As I corrected the colors in the black one, I decided to do something different with the other, so I repainted it as shown in the photo below.
Eventually, a client saw this version of the chair, liked it, and ordered another to make a pair.
I still have the black one.