Bed Headboard

c. 1830–c. 1860
Papier-maché, lacquer, paint, mother-of-pearl, gilding, metal, wood
Overall: 57 3/4 x 55 5/8 x 2 3/4in. (146.7 x 141.3 x 7cm.)
Decorative Arts and Design
Wendy and Emery Reves Collection - Belle Chambre, Level 3
Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection
Image courtesy Dallas Museum of Art

General Description

During 19th-century Victorian era England, craftpersons made a wide range of furniture and objects that were decorated with dark lacquer, mother-of-pearl, and paint. Some of the furniture, especially that constructed of papier-mâché, was innovative in terms of its material and shape. The vogue for this decorative style lasted well into the mid-19th century. In 1860, for example, the two main centers of production in England, Birmingham and Wolverhampton, employed between 1,000 and 2,000 craftspersons making this line of furniture and related objects.

The sizable group of 19th-century English papier-mâché furniture is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Reves furniture acquisitions. During the 1960s, when Wendy Reves was building the collection, the ornate Rococo Revival style was poorly regarded by collectors, so the collecting of such pieces was extremely avant-garde on the part of Reves. Working through galleries like La Boutique du Village in Paris and Stair & Co. in London, Reves gathered together more than twenty examples, most of which are now at the Dallas Museum of Art. The collection is especially noteworthy because of its wide variety of forms.

This papier-mâché headboard covered with lacquer, paint, and gilding is part of an exceptionally fine bed of a rare type because of their fragility. Horizontal iron strips on its back prevent warping and add strength. The posts are painted metal with brass finials and mounts and the wisteria blossoms that hang down from the crest were created by gluing on hundreds of small pieces of mother-of-pearl.

Because such ornament required much handwork, its production was championed by those interested in promoting handicrafts. For example, by 1852, England's Department of Practical Art, which later became the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, owned twenty-two examples of papier-mâché and lacquered furniture. One of the few other beds of the quality seen here is in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The Victorian taste for drama is evidenced by the use of a black lacquered background against which is set a profusion of multi-colored shelled and painted flowers, and gilt Gothic revival patterned borders. The lavender, pink and blue glinting mother-of-pearl inlays further accentuate the naturalistically painted roses, daisies, morning glories and other flowers. At the top, the dripping gold-looped clusters of wisteria create a luxuriant fantasy anticipating the later taste for rooms with a single theme such as James McNeill Whistler's "Peacock Room", now in the Freer Gallery, and Levy Dhurmer's "Wisteria Room," in the Metropolitan Museum.

Adapted from

  • Dallas Museum of Art, Decorative Arts Highlights from the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection (Dallas, Texas: Dallas Museum of Art, 1995), 43 and 56.
  • Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection (Dallas, Texas: Dallas Museum of Art, 1985), 169.

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