A Fine Pair of Early Victorian Japanned Papier-Mâché Side Chairs c.1844

Origin: English
Period: Mid Nineteenth Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1844
Height: 35.5 inches
Width: 23 inches
Depth: 22 inches (all at maximum)

The very good pair of japanned papier-mâché single salon spoon backed chairs supported by wooden legs and seat rails with scalloped edges and mother of pearl, gilt and painted decoration to include urns on pedestals, birdbaths with fountains, butterflies and birds, flower petals, bird feathers and leaf veins, the wholes having drop in upholstered seats and scrolled cabriole front legs, the reverses with painted bronze decoration and registration lozenges surviving from the early Victorian period.

In comparatively very good overall condition, there is patchy wear with crackling and small losses to each but at least 90% of the inlay remains in good condition and the wholes show a well established patination to their lacquer. One chair has a repair to one of its front legs and a small area of loss to the front moulding. Both seat pans are later replacements, being upholstered in a good quality gold patterned coloured fabric. The original pans probably had the stamp of Jennens and Bettridge to their undersides. The registration lozenge to the reverse of one of the chairs dates it, and probably both, to 10th August, 1844.

The year of 1844 saw the publication of Charles Dickens' novel Martin Chuzzlewit, the creation of J. M. W. Turner’s – Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway (National Gallery, London) and The Royal Exchange in London was opened by Queen Victoria.

These chairs are of the highest quality and it is probable that they were made by Jennens and Bettridge aka Aaron Jennens and T.H. Bettridge (fl. 1815-1864) who are the name most people associate with this period and were highly regarded for producing quality papier mâché wares. The Birmingham company had shops in New York as well as London; producing some of the finest papier mâché items of all time and many are now prized collector’s items or museum pieces today. There is a chair dated to the same year to this pair in the collection of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum of the Smithsonian Institution in New York.

Papier-mâché itself became an industry in England in 1772 when Henry Clay of Birmingham took out a patent for its making. The process for making papier-mâché furniture was achieved either by pasting multiple layers of paper over shaped cores, or by pressing paper pulp between dies or molds to form a variety of shapes. Once dried, the resulting raw material could be carved and polished and was intended to be japanned and inlaid with mother-of-pearl, glass, or stones like these chairs. The black laquer on these chairs were made up of amber, linseed oil, resin and asphaltum (thinned with turpentine this was a bitumous substance from the Dead Sea).

“Among the many inventions of modern times for diffusing the luxuries, and even the conveniences of life, there are few which have greater claims to our admiration than papier-mâché. Whether it meets the eye in the shape of furniture, or in articles of domestic utility, its beauty and agreeableness are equally striking and effective. Nor is it less so when applied to ornamental purposes” - The World In Its Workshops, by James Ward, 1851.

Shimmering with beauty, it is very rare to find these chairs presented as a pair.