Spirals & Scrolls, Curves & Curls

The Baroque era recognised almost no bounds as far as its infatuation with movement, energy and exuberance was concerned.

This magnificent chair from England with its wealth of barley-twist detailing is surprisingly light and airy – and far less ponderous than its older relatives.

That suggests that it probably dates from the time of Queen Victoria, most likely the second half of the nineteenth century. The wood is oak, and the chair is in excellent condition.

So, perhaps we might choose to call it a ‘nineteenth-century Jacobean chair’.

The beautifully patterned pink and red silk damask upholstery is worn and brittle, and the seat has certainly seen better days. Surely, the only solution can be either to place a loose seat pad on top or to start over from scratch. That, alas, would herald the end of the line for the silk damask. As it is, however, it feels more than a trifle unsettling to rely on the seat to support one’s entire weight.

Barley-twist legs are light and airy

It’s always exciting to discover the history behind a chair, because it is, of course, also the history of the people who have owned and used the chair.

It’s impossible, however, to glean the whole story of how a stately tree that once stood somewhere long ago became the chair that we see before us today. A chair can often be many centuries older than our own celebrated centenarians.

As I have already said, this particular chair originated in England, yet years later it turned up in Sweden in the home of an elderly lady who saw it as the ideal complement to her dressing table. She probably used the chair for a few minutes every day, maybe while powdering her face or combing her dark hair. In those days face powder was all but obligatory; a shiny nose was nothing to be proud of. So the chair served its purpose well for as long as the old lady continued to sit at her dressing table and take an active part in social life.

Today the chair is redundant – or perhaps I should say retired – but it is still alert and generally fairly sprightly, apart from the upholstery. It has been given a new lease of life since the old lady sadly passed away. Now it serves as an extra chair on all those high days and holidays when the house is filled with visitors, the youngest of whom invariably enjoy clambering up onto its seat.

Queen Victoria and her Prince Albert

The recollections the chair enjoys from its years in England provide it with a constant source of happy memories, but there seems little point in embarking on a new journey in search of other remaining members of the family. Anyway, the chair shudders to recall the buck and sway of the waves on the voyage from England to Sweden in the early 1900s. It was nothing short of a miracle that it didn’t break a leg or two as the cargo shifted with every pitch and yaw of the ship.

With time Sweden has become ‘Home, sweet home’.

Queen Victoria reigned from 1837 to 1901.

By Gun Bjerkander Handberg

A Note From The Editor:

Read more charming Historic Chair stories in one of two publications from the series Please Be Seated – Historic Chairs and The Tales They Tell by author Gun Bjerkander Handberg.

Please Be Seated – Historic Chairs and The Tales They Tell are available at Amazon or Adlibris