Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Isn't it Suite? Livingston Furniture Returned to Clermont

It was with great excitement last December that welcomed the donation of three pieces of Livingston furniture back to Clermont. After some time in our cramped temporary storage area, these pieces were gently transported to our Peebles Island Resource Center for conservation and photography.

Above at right you can see the sofa, a transitional piece between the heavy, blocky Empire period and the more curvacious Rococo revival period. The conservators estimated this piece to be from somewhere in the mid nineteenth century. It looks to me to be stately, refined, and uncomfortable.

While the upholstery on these three beautiful pieces matches, they themselves do not. They are a "marriage," a combination of pieces from different sets. The two chairs appear to be from a few decades later than the sofa above. You can also see that the two chairs, while in a similar style, have different ornamentation schemes. Both are Rococo revival, but the one with the crest at the top is much more ornately-carved and of a slightly different-colored wood.

The three were re-upholstered in matching blue silk in the 1960s by the woman that Janet Livingston gave them too, but if we look at them in photographs from the 1930s, we can see that they were upholstered to match at that time too.

See? Here they are, photographed in the mid 1930s in Clermont's drawing room. You can just see the sofa and crested chair to the right. The smaller arm chair is in the middle, ironicly paired with the chair it should match, but now does not match because of the change in upholstery.

As the conservators embark on their restoration of the three pieces, they will need to find a new upholstery that resembles the stuff that was on there around 1930 (Clermont's interpretation date). You can see a closer look at the edges of the sofa and larger chair right.

And at left, you can see a closer image of the smaller arm chair.

It's clearly some sort of silk damask (pronounced DAM-ask), light in color, and not an uncommon choice for the era.

While the conservators were hoping to finds shreds of the old upholstery underneath the new stuff, it occurred to me that the side chair in this photo is upholstered in the same fabric. In my wanderings through collections, I knew I'd seen at least a few upholstered side chairs hanging out in collections. So over I went, and I was rewarded for my trouble.

Here is the same side chair you can see in the photograph at left, now worn by age and use and light. And at some point some put a heavier upholstery over the top (I've folded it back so you can see the older layer underneath). But the same pale damask is still clinging to the seat underneath.

And here's another image of the upholstery. It's faded, shattering, and worn, but from this our conservators will be able to select new silk with which to cover our beautiful new donations as we return them to the way Alice, Honoria, and Janet knew them in the 1930s.

It's all one more step on our quest to continually improve the accuracy of our interpretation of life at Clermont. I will keep you updated as we look to incorporate these into our furnishing plan at the site.

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