Standing alone and forlorn in a corner of the auction house.
Sold at auction in the late 1970s.
The catalogue entry states: CHAIR, Rococo, painted grey. Curvilinear form. High pierced back with baluster-shaped splat. Cabriole legs with H-stretcher. Swedish, mid-18th century.
The reserve price was a modest 500 kronor (the equivalent of little more than 50 euros). And the catalogue description also advises: “Export licence will not be granted for this object.” It leads you to think that this is a Swedish chair of some significance.
The straight lines of the front rail are punctuated by a single carved decoration – a small stylised seashell, or maybe an open fan – and the flared terminations of the legs bear evidence of wear on the heels.
That’s quite common, of course. The chair is old and used; it’s been dragged and shoved back and forth over floors both even and uneven for centuries. Little wonder, then, that its heels have seen better days!
The chair was bought by a woman who, at the time, lived on her own and who invested a great deal of effort into repainting it and recovering it. When it later became time for the woman to marry, the chair was made part of her dowry. Just what her spouse thought of it remains a mystery. Decades have come and decades have gone without anyone being able to recall when, if ever, the chair has actually been pressed into use. It simply stands there in the couple’s home as a rather eye-catching solitaire, distinguished by its venerable age as “one-of-a-kind” among the more modern furnishings.
Is the reason the chair doesn’t seem to be used simply the fact that the seat is too low? A resourceful antique restorer ought to be able to “re-heel” the worn-down feet. More often than not, all that’s needed is 1–1.5 centimetres for a taller present-day user to feel comfortable and at the right height when seated.
The Rococo style originated in France in the 1720s, its fluid, ebullient lines standing in stark contrast to the bombastic weightiness of the Baroque forms that preceded it.
Rococo furnishings are lighter and brighter. The Rococo soul was enveloped in a kind of feminine elegance that expressed itself in white powder, pastel shades, beautiful clothes and an infatuation with nature. People still arranged furniture along the walls, as had been the custom in the Baroque era, but the difference was that Rococo furnishings could be moved with much less inconvenience.
This made it easy to gather in small, intimate groups for coffee parties by the window or games of cards close to the warmth of those great tiled stoves. Socialising had become simpler.
Antiques are a wonderful source of pleasure. And none more so than old chairs.
I count it a privilege to be able to say that art and antiques have been my entire life.
Especially old chairs.
Advanced in years, rich in experience and with many a fascinating tale to tell, chairs have been my constant companions through life – a backdrop of quality and consummate craftsmanship.
How meaningful it feels to see that they continue to be used.
Gun Bjerkander Handberg
I hope you have enjoyed reading my historic chair blog. If you would like to read further chair tales, I am delighted to announce that my recent publications from the Please Be Seated – Historic Chairs and the Tale They Tell series are now available online and at all bookshops.
Warm wishes, Gun