An English Armchair in Kentian Style, c. 1730
This eighteenth-century carved giltwood armchair is one of the relatively few examples of English furniture in the Wallace Collection and is believed to have been part of a suite of eight chairs originally made for Chiswick House in c. 1730 to the designs of William Kent. Until recently the armchair’s condition had prohibited it from being on display but a Conservation Appeal last year raised the funds to restore it to its former glory.
Following treatment by the Wallace Collection Conservation team and outside experts, it was returned to the galleries in September 2017. Before the conservation treatment began in December 2016, sections of the original carving were missing. The fine detail of the carved ornamental frame was obscured by layers of over-gilding. The chair had been re-upholstered in the nineteenth century with patterned velvet that had since decayed beyond recognition. The analysis of the carved surface concluded that the frame was originally oil-gilded, this would have displayed the fine detail of the carving. Records from Chiswick House suggested the chair was originally upholstered in blue silk, similar to the chairs found in the Blue Velvet Room at Chiswick House today.
Using this evidence it was decided to restore c.1730s appearance of the armchair. Layers of nineteenth-century over-gilding were removed from the frame to reveal the original surface. Replacements for the lost sections of ornament were carved in oak. Sadly, little of the original gilding remained so the chair frame was re-gilded using an oil-gliding process faithful to the original decoration. The decayed nineteenth-century upholstery was removed and archived. This was replaced with contemporary conservation upholstery and reproduction eighteenth-century silk velvet to match the blue velvet suite at Chiswick House. Now the detail of Kent’s eighteenth-century design is displayed again for all to appreciate.
These days it’s often said ‘we don’t make things like we used to’. It’s understandable why people say it, many traditional craft skills are lesser used today. But if we ever want to make objects like this armchair in the future it’s important to keep examples of the craft alive in our museums.