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Petit Point Chair Panel Detail

French, second quarter of the 18th century

In early eighteenth-century France, a new emphasis on comfort and intimacy characterized the wealthy domestic interior in which upholstered seating furniture played an important role. The recently introduced bergère—a low, wide chair with closed arms—as well as the more traditional, open-armed fauteuil were to be found in salons where the art of conversation was a dominant feature of daily social life. En suite coverings for such furniture provided both visual interest and unity in a room’s décor. Although a wide variety of woven and embroidered textiles embellished interior spaces, those intended for seating furniture needed to be especially sturdy. Petit point, or canvas work embroidery, was both efficient to produce and durable. Given the extensive wear on this type of furniture as well as changes in taste, it is unusual to find extant upholstery fabric in good condition; more remarkable is the survival of an unused, pristine set.

The robust design of these wool and silk chair panels would have made a bold statement. Stylistically, the brightly colored, large-scale flowering branches growing from small hillocks depicted on the seats and seatbacks relate to crewelwork bed hangings of the early eighteenth century as well as naturalistic silks of the 1730s and 1740s. The intensity of the shades of pinks, blue, green, mauve, and yellow attests to the well documented, contemporary taste for strong colors for furnishings. The full set comprises complete coverings for a bergère and four fauteuils including panels for the arm pads and borders with complementary motifs of large, single sprigs and continuous flowering branches.

During the eighteenth century, the tapissier, or upholsterer, was a key figure in planning the decorative scheme of an interior. The handwritten name “Mad. de [B?]risey,” that appears on a small piece of paper tacked to one of the fauteuil seatbacks, is probably that of the client who commissioned these exuberant panels.

Set of Uncut Petit Point Chair Panels

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